- Associated Press - Monday, March 5, 2018

WATERTOWN, S.D. (AP) - In many ways, Chris Schilken embodies the new entrepreneurial era Watertown looks to bring forth.

At 35 years old, the new executive director of the Watertown Development Company is young enough to bring fresh expansionism ideas to the table. Yet he is seasoned enough to know what works and what doesn’t, having previously served five years in a similar position in Devils Lake, North Dakota. Before coming to Watertown, Schilken most recently worked as a loan manager for Prairie Federal Credit Union in Minot, North Dakota, where he and his wife, Erika, still have family.

Schilken’s business experience extends back to his college days, where he earned a business degree from Minot State University.

“I’ve always had a passion for getting involved in a community’s economic development and helping business people out and cities grow,” Schilken told the Public Opinion recently.

Having previously attracted high-profile businesses such as Walmart and Applebee’s to Devils Lake, which has a population area of about 12,000, Schilken views Watertown as poised to take advantage of a bright future.

“I think it is a good location. You’ve got the best two-year college (in Lake Area Technical Institute) in the nation. You’ve got a board that, from what I can tell, has been pretty aggressive in the past as far as acquiring land and building industrial parks and getting sites ready,” he said. “In my mind, it’s kind of a perfect spot to be in.”

Schilken was also attracted to Watertown’s standing as the fifth most populous city in the state. He believes that ranking will attract companies.

“That opens up a lot of new possibilities. When companies are looking, they know there’s growth,” Schilken said. “You can see that happening as you got an expanded hospital coming online and you see new buildings going up.”

To continue attracting interest from the outside, Schilken believes the city’s current companies and organizations must keep investing in their properties and city.

“Current investment in current development definitely brings on more interest (from potential new employers),” Schilken said. “As they look and wonder why they should invest millions of dollars in Watertown, all they would have to do is look around and see that existing companies are investing. That just helps when you sell prospects on the possibility of moving here.”

One of Schilken’s first tasks may be to help develop a new industrial park with land the WDC and the City of Watertown agreed in early-February to acquire. The park is located in the city’s southeast corner along the 20th Avenue South and 29th Street East curve directly south of Walmart.

Nothing is imminent, but Schilken said there has been interest.

“There have been people that have reached out looking for some new locations. Acquiring that land will help us market that to potential manufactures or different suppliers that maybe want to expand locally or ones from outside and see if they may want to relocate there,” he said.

The deliberate nature of that process fits in with Schilken’s development philosophy of patience.

“You’ve got to just keep moving forward. Not everything is going to happen overnight,” he said. “It’s nice to grow steady and in a responsible way to make sure we’re doing it correctly. There has been history in other towns where they try to grow too fast and it doesn’t work out the way they thought it would.”

Schilken, however, doesn’t believe that fate will befall Watertown.

“I think there are a lot of good things ahead for Watertown. I’m excited to be a part of it and move forward,” he said. “Everyone has been really welcoming and they’re all in it for the right reasons.”


Information from: Watertown Public Opinion, http://www.thepublicopinion.com

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