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Keith Severson takes over Chamber's top leadership position

By Amy SmolikMarketing & Communications Manager

Sioux Falls S.D. (KELO AM) - Before he even graduated from Augustana College with a degree in accounting and business administration, Severson was balancing married life with a young child, schoolwork, and North Central Conference baseball (he played outfield), along with jobs on campus, at IBM and Sid's Crown Liquor.

The New York native said after graduation he had visions of moving to Minneapolis or Denver, but had an opportunity in Sioux Falls so his family stayed here.

"I knew that there was great growth opportunities in Sioux Falls and I've never looked back," Severson said. "And I've got some perspective in watching our community grow. I remember pheasant hunting where the Empire Mall is today."

Today Severson still juggles several roles: as husband, father, grandfather, business partner, avid outdoorsman and community leader for several organizations, including the 2013-14 Chair of the Board of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.

In his career, Severson has spent 34 years in downtown Sioux Falls working for several companies before joining what is now Eide Bailly LLP. He's said he's enjoyed watching the city's core be revitalized over the years. In fact, Severson lobbied to keep his company's location downtown in the late 1990s when two CPA firms merged into what is now known as Eide Bailly.

He has also played a major role in the remodeling of the Commerce Center, home to the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau and Sioux Falls Development Foundation and located at 8th Street and Phillips Avenue downtown. The project was a major undertaking for the organizations, which included the Chamber staff relocating to the second floor of the building, and Severson was one of the main volunteers who coordinated with building owners. Work continues in the exterior and in the common areas of the building and will be completed soon.

Coordinating the building project is just one of the ways Severson has served the Chamber since joining the board of directors in 2009. In the past, he's served on the Chamber's Community Appeals Committee to help vet capital projects and schedule their fundraising and is a graduate of the Chamber's Leadership Sioux Falls program. He credits Leadership Sioux Falls for helping him get more active in the community and for gaining a better understanding of public/private partnerships.

In September, Sioux Falls was recognized as one of seven Enterprising Communities in a study released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The study highlighted best practices successful communities were implementing to create a positive business climate and to boost their economy. Sioux Falls, the smallest city included, was credited for the number of ways the public and private sectors successfully work together.

"If you go back the last 50 years, community leaders have a sense of responsibility for the common good," he said. "The founders of Forward Sioux Falls and the collaboration with the Chamber and Development Foundation boards are proof of that."

The number of accolades the community consistently receives certainly boosts its reputation and Severson would like to see even more collaboration to help Sioux Falls prosper.

"We have challenges. A big one is workforce development and how to get quality workers to support the growth. We need to advance workforce and advance our education system," Severson said. "High-quality jobs are key to keeping people here. Jobs create opportunities. It's what will help attract talent back to Sioux Falls."

The Chamber of Commerce can play a role in helping businesses grow and in bringing in more workers. "I want to emphasize working together for the common cause. We need to continue to be the facilitator for economic progress to meet the needs of our members and the community," he said.

Meeting Chamber members' needs is also high on Severson's priority list. He wants to grow the Chamber membership and enhance the services offered to members.

"There is a challenge: What's next? What's our vision for Sioux Falls? That's a conversation the Chamber needs to facilitate," Severson said. "When the Chamber comes to the table, we help bring solutions."Learn more about Severson's ideas for the coming year and celebrate past successes by attending the Chamber's 107th Annual Meeting Oct. 22. The keynote speaker is Miami Heat President Pat Riley. Contact Maddie Gutierrez at 373-2015 to purchase tickets: $80 per person for Chamber members or $160 per person for non-members; reserved tables of 10 are available.