- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - The line between love and passion, it turns out, is 240 miles.

Or, perhaps, 438 miles.

Either distance reveals the incredible lengths people will commute to keep their love of family and home in one ZIP code and their career passions in another.

For Scott Hettenbach, enterprise manager at Sanford Power in Sioux Falls, that means driving 438 miles one way from his driveway in Madison, Wisconsin. And in the case of Donita Flodeen, director of origination and servicing program management for ReliaMax Lending Services in Sioux Falls, try 240 miles from her front step in Cannon Falls, Minnesota.

“I’m pretty sure my car can drive it all by itself by now,” Flodeen said, laughing.

Mega-commuting - traveling at least 90 minutes and 50 or more miles to a job - is not just a growing trend in megalopolis America. In its 2011 American Community Survey report, the U.S. Census Bureau uncovered 13,936 South Dakotans who commuted 60 minutes or more to work. It also identified 16,052 people living in other states who labor in South Dakota.

Granted, out-of-staters don’t have to drive far to reach border communities such as Yankton, Rapid City or Sioux Falls. The same is true going the other direction. Neither is mega-commuting a new trend - traveling salespeople have walked out the door Monday mornings and returned Friday nights for decades.

But now a New York University study suggests that long-distance commutes are becoming more popular, with 3 percent to 10 percent of America’s working population covering 180 miles to and from work.

What’s behind it? The housing collapse created by the 2008 recession for one, NYU researchers surmise. When people get a job in a new city, they can find it difficult to sell their home in their current city, so they wait it out and commute.

In the case of dual-career families, if one partner gets a job offer far from home and the other is unwilling to leave a job or has trouble finding employment in the new location, commuting becomes an option. And finally, with increasing mobile technology, people can stay better connected with family even though they’re hundreds of miles apart.

All this has given rise to places in Sioux Falls such as Regus in the CNA Surety Building, Meso and The Bakery, which offer flexible work space for individuals and companies coming into Sioux Falls and needing at least temporary offices, telephone and Internet service, IT departments, conference rooms and more.

Carrie Probst, Regus’ general manager, sees all kinds of people walking through her door. People with global companies such as Apple and Google come in to work for a day or two. Financial planners, human resource specialists and roofing companies use her offices for a few hours, a few days or longer.

“We have a super-commuter who helps doctors financially. He comes from Kansas City,” Probst told the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1l6Zmzo ). “We’ve got a roofing company from Indianapolis. We’ve got people who come in from Alberta, Canada.”

Her sense is that many long-distance commuters coming here are involved in financial services. And many are companies looking to test the business climate before committing long term.

“A lot of people are ready to come in, but they want to get their toes wet first, see how it goes and not have a lot of commitment,” Probst said. “So they come, start building up their territory and then decide whether to move into something more permanent.”

The growth in mega-commuting spurred Regus into the Sioux Falls market in April 2014. Its offices here are set up similarly to the 3,000 other Regus sites across the country, Probst said.

Kim Bartling, who helped start Meso four years ago, has a graphic designer from Kansas City in her facility, a company based out of Huron and a web designer whose business is headquartered in Detroit. In many ways, they all have broken out of the traditional mold of 8-to-5 workdays in a single location, she said.

“There’s a sense out there that if a job means I have to sit in an office from 8 to 5 and I don’t feel like I can do that, then I can’t have a job,” Bartling said. “What we’re discovering as a country is that because of technology our office can be anywhere. Or there’s this idea that if I can travel to another community and make enough money in three days than in five, then you have that much more time to be home with your family.”

After 18 years as associate director of strength and conditioning at the University of Wisconsin, Scott Hettenbach discovered Sioux Falls through a conversation with former Badger basketball player Joe Krabbenhoft.

Krabbenhoft’s father, Sanford Health CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft, helped to create a state-of-the-art sports complex in northwestern Sioux Falls that merged managing health care with sports performance. Intrigued, Hettenbach came in May 2013 to check it out.

He ended up being hired to train the Skyforce basketball team and to administer a program that coaches young strength coaches.

Hettenbach said he, his wife and teenage daughter came to Sioux Falls to look at houses, check out schools and see what job opportunities there might be for his wife, who works in health care in Madison.

What they settled on was his commuting.

“After weighing everything, we just sat back and said … it’s going to be better to let our daughter finish up, not uproot her from school and friends,” Hettenbach said. “My wife has a tremendous job, too. It just seemed like … we were so engrained in the community there, let’s make sure things are going to work out here in Sioux Falls for me.”

He leaves Madison on a Sunday evening or Monday morning, stays for almost two weeks in an apartment he has here, then drives back home on a Friday night. If the weather is good, he makes the journey in six hours.

“The hardest part is driving at night in the winter,” he said. “Two years ago, when I first came out here, it was an awful winter, and I saw some of the most horrific accidents on Interstate 90 between Sioux Falls and La Crosse (Wisconsin) I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Hettenbach said he misses what he calls “those little day-to-day moments with my family.” Though texting and emails make it easier, he has the flexibility to schedule his work time so he doesn’t miss such things as his daughter’s track meets or back-to-school events for parents.

That said, he also considers Sioux Falls home now, too. He volunteered at the Sioux Falls Marathon. He participated in the Step Up for Heroes event. He goes to high school football games on Friday nights.

“I would tell you that I love my job, love the people here and who I work with,” he said. “I guess right now I have two homes.”

After 29 years in the student-loan business, working at Norwest Bank and its next incarnation as Wells Fargo, Donita Flodeen was lured from her Minnesota roots to Sioux Falls by a longtime colleague and now CEO of ReliaMax Lending Services, Paul Dockry.

The company helps smaller banks and credit unions keep their hands in the student-loan business by handling the origination, servicing and insuring of those loans for them.

For the past 18 months, Flodeen has left Sundays from her home in Cannon Falls - between the Twin Cities and Rochester - and driven to Sioux Falls, where she works through Thursday or Friday.

“I could do more remotely from home,” she said. “But while we’re starting up, building up our business, it’s important for me to be on-site and working with my team.”

Her children are grown, so Flodeen said she doesn’t miss much back home. But if a grandchild is, say, starting a first day of school, she arranges her schedule to ensure that her tradition of taking them out to breakfast that day continues.

“Things that are important to me that I need to be home for, the company is great,” she said.

Otherwise, Flodeen lives at the Residence Inn near The Empire Mall during the week. With a small kitchen, a stove and refrigerator, “it’s like having a little apartment,” she said. “It’s just that somebody else cleans it for me.”

When she’s not at work, she’s involved in the Sioux Falls community - doing Sioux Empire United Way activities, helping out with Special Olympics South Dakota, stuffing backpacks for Feeding South Dakota.

“It works for me,” she said of her mega-commuting. “If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

Once a month, two or three days at a time, Jeff Schlicht leaves his Minnetonka, Minnesota-based office for Summit Financial Advisers and travels to Sioux Falls to work with clients.

Technology allows him to reach a lot of people he works with across the country through WebEx videoconferencing. Still, Schlicht said, “it can be more efficient when you meet face to face.”

So with what amounts to a three-hour drive from his home in a Minneapolis suburb to temporary office space at the Regus center in the CNA Surety Building, he can meet with many of the two to three dozen clients he has in this area.

Like others, Schlicht said flexibility in his business allows him to work one place and live another.

“I organize my schedule around family events, so I don’t give up things,” he said. “I can usually make my trips short enough where I might miss a night at home, but I haven’t missed any of my son’s football games and baseball games. That’s the one thing that’s attractive to me about having the flexibility.”

With Regus, he can stay next door at the Hilton Garden Inn. And though he lives 240 miles away, Schlicht said he still has a bond with the Sioux Falls community. His wife, an Aberdeen native, graduated from Augustana University. He was in town a week or two ago for the school’s homecoming festivities.

It could be, he said, that those kinds of ties could mean a permanent move to Sioux Falls someday.

“We have discussed at some point moving our family out there and opening a second branch office in Sioux Falls,” Schlicht said. “But because of the age of our kids and a lot of other factors … and with technology and the fact that most of our clients are very comfortable doing meetings remotely and having access to all their financial information through computers … we just decided we would do this commuting option for now.”

___

Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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