Watertown Development Company to Celebrate 75th Anniversary

WATERTOWN, S.D. —   Watertown Development Company (WDC) is proudly celebrating its 75th anniversary throughout the following year with activities highlighting the company’s history and plans for its future.


Established on December 22, 1947, WDC began as an industrial development corporation for the purpose of furthering economic development in Watertown by acquiring real estate for housing and commercial development and raising the capital needed to purchase and plat its first industrial park in 1956. Over the years, WDC has evolved to meet the development needs of the community and now strategically invests in programming and initiatives in areas such as workforce, business attraction and expansion, community development, and investor relations.


Throughout the past 75 years, WDC has been regionally, nationally, and internationally recognized for its initiatives and excellence in the industry. In 2020, the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) recognized WDC as an Accredited Economic Development Organization (AEDO). According to IEDC, accreditation says to your community that your organization is a leading authority on economic development-related issues. Only 71 organizations have met the criteria to become accredited, with WDC being the only organization in South Dakota to have done so.


WDC will kick off its celebration with a Chamber After 4 on December 8, 2022, from 4:00pm – 6:00pm at the WDC office, located on the 3rd floor of the Commerce Center. The company will continue into the next year with two more reasons to celebrate: the reveal of a new website and the launch of the Grow Watertown 2.0 strategic plan and ensuing capital campaign.


About Watertown Development Company

The Watertown Development Company (WDC) is a private, non-profit economic development company funded by private and public sector stakeholders. The WDC owns and operates buildings, land, and development areas for the economic benefit of the community. Since its establishment in 1947, its efforts have generated substantial impacts and benefits for many decades. The WDC has led strategies and been responsible for the creation of jobs and overall economic opportunity through programs designed to promote and increase the commercial, financial, and economic vitality of the Watertown and its citizens.

Watertown Development announces new director of business development

WATERTOWN, S.D. —  Watertown Development Company (WDC) has hired Molly Heaton as its Director of Business Development.


Heaton brings with her over 12 years of Human Resource experience, specifically in the manufacturing industry. Her main duties will be to support and execute programs and activities related to recruitment of new businesses and expansion of current business in the WDC service area. She will also be responsible for the administration of current workforce development programs and development of new programs and initiatives to meet the area’s workforce needs.


“Being in HR and supporting management teams, I’ve learned there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to day-to-day business strains,” says Heaton. “With this, I’m looking forward to all of the out-of-the-box ideas to build and enhance our workforce while promoting city development.”


An advocate for Watertown’s workforce, Heaton has been an active member of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) since 2014 and the Watertown Workforce Advisory Council (WWAC) since its inception in 2015, serving as its Vice Chair since January 2022. She will now serve as the administrator of the WWAC in her new role at WDC.


“I’m grateful for this opportunity to showcase my experiences from working in manufacturing while converting my role with the Workforce Advisory Council to support local businesses in their own growth and development,” Heaton continued. “I’m looking forward to being a part of Watertown’s progress.”


In her free time, Heaton volunteers with Junior Achievement of South Dakota, teaching at Watertown High School and McKinley Elementary School. She and her husband also stay busy supporting their two daughters during competitive cheer season and riding their Harleys in the summer.


About Watertown Development Company

The Watertown Development Company (WDC) is a private, non-profit economic development company funded by private and public sector stakeholders. The WDC owns and operates buildings, land, and development areas for the economic benefit of the community. Since its establishment in 1947, its efforts have generated substantial impacts and benefits for many decades. The WDC has led strategies and been responsible for the creation of jobs and overall economic opportunity through programs designed to promote and increase the commercial, financial, and economic vitality of the Watertown and its citizens.

Watertown Development Company Unveils New Brand Identity

WATERTOWN, S.D.– Watertown Development Company (WDC) is proud to share the new brand identity that will represent the 75-year-old organization moving into the future. WDC’s new image, which features a unique icon and updated color palette, focuses on the organization’s traditional values and efforts with its emphasis on business innovation, trust, and progress.


“With the organization’s 75th anniversary approaching, we felt it was the perfect time to reimagine WDC’s brand,” said Michelle Kakacek, Executive Director of the Watertown Development Company. “This new branding gives the organization a fresh visual approach, while maintaining the image of integrity and respect WDC has built since its founding in 1947.”


WDC staff worked closely with the marketing firm Simpleview, the same company that also worked with Visit Watertown, Watertown Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Watertown, to develop and finalize the new design. The new logo will be rolled out on all marketing materials after being presented at the 2022 WDC Annual Investor Meeting on October 20, 2022.


A new website for the organization is also underway and is expected to be completed in early 2023.

Watertown Workforce Advisory Council Announces 2022 Excellence in Manufacturing Awards

WATERTOWN, S.D.– The Watertown Workforce Advisory council kicked off South Dakota’s Manufacturing Week by announcing the winners of the first Excellence in Manufacturing Awards to manufacturing employees in seven categories for outstanding work in their field. Those categories included machine operators, material handlers, painters and prep, production support, welders, working leads and supervisors, and all other production roles.


Nominated by fellow peers and selected by members of the Manufacturing Week Committee, the 2022 award recipients are Brandon Saeger from Macksteel Warehouse, Shawn Bradberry from Terex Utilities, Neil Warne from ESCO Manufacturing, Jeremy Raap from Terex Utilities, David Veflin from Terex Utilities, Al Young from Benchmark Foam, and Ian Madsen from Terex Utilities.


In addition to a certificate of recognition, each recipient was awarded $100 in Chamber Bucks and entered into a drawing for the grand prize. Ian Madsen from Terex Utilities was the proud winner of The Kettle, a smokeless fire pit manufactured and donated by Macksteel.


“We want to recognize all manufacturing employees, and thank them for the work that they do to keep our economy growing,” said Michelle Kakacek, Executive Director of the Watertown Development Company. “Congratulations to the award winners, whose efforts every day represent a commitment to excellence by both the employees and the employers they represent.”


South Dakota Manufacturing Week begins the week prior to the first Friday in October. This week-long celebration aims to honor the contributions of the manufacturing sector by recognizing and sharing information about the work and achievements the sector has done in the last year and its impact on South Dakota’s economy.

Watertown Development Company to Receive State Workforce Program Funds

WATERTOWN, S.D. – Watertown Development Company is proud to announce the Governor’s Office of Economic Development has awarded the organization a workforce recruitment grant in the amount of $100,000.


“Workforce continues to be our biggest challenge and will be for the foreseeable future.  It’s exciting to see GOED make workforce recruitment a priority and offer partnership opportunities to communities across the state.  We will use these funds to enhance our Attract and Enhance workforce program, providing more incentives as we work with our existing businesses to attract employees.,” said Mark Vaux, Watertown Development Company’s Executive Director.


In August, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) announced a workforce recruitment program to inform out-of-state jobseekers that South Dakota businesses across the state are hiring.


Communities were invited to apply for funding, which would be distributed based on the partnership commitment, and the quality of jobs available.


The two-part workforce initiative includes an opportunity for both marketing as well as incentives for workforce recruitment in local communities across the state. The digital marketing effort will promote both businesses and communities looking for help. Incentives such as relocation bonuses, signing bonuses, and upskilling are also included.


With both initiatives, GOED will provide Watertown Development Company funds, to be matched by both the economic development organization and local businesses.


A state-wide workforce campaign has already begun, and individual community campaigns anticipate launching in October throughout the states of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, California, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Colorado.

Watertown Development Company Announces New Executive Director

WATERTOWN, S.D.– The Watertown Development Company (WDC) has named Michelle Kakacek as the WDC’s new Executive Director effective immediately.  The announcement comes after an extensive national search with an executive search firm, DDA Human Resources Inc.


“Michelle’s credentials, experience, and personality make her an excellent leader for economic development in Watertown,” said Board Chair Jim Redlinger. “She has demonstrated success in all facets of economic development, business development and community leadership. We are very excited to have someone of her ability leading the WDC. I am confident she will bring innovation and strategic direction that will be a true asset in the continued development of Watertown.”


Kakacek has more than 7 years of experience in economic development as the WDC’s Director of Business Development. In that role, she was involved in industrial business retention and expansions, which allowed her to work with business prospects and manage projects for new and expanding companies. Kakacek also led the Workforce Development program, working with the Watertown Workforce Advisory Council and other local stakeholders to develop and execute programs designed to recruit workforce to Watertown and retain and up-skill the area’s incumbent workforce – such as the WDC’s Attract & Enhance Program. In addition to those efforts, she played an active role in the revitalization of Downtown Watertown, helping redevelop several properties to bring new small businesses to the city’s core.


“I am thrilled at the opportunity to lead the WDC and look forward to continuing the organization’s proven track record of furthering the economic prosperity of the Watertown area,” stated Kakacek. “With a talented staff, dedicated Board of Directors, and strong relationships with civic leaders and business and industry partners, I am confident that WDC will continue to innovate and maintain its presence as a leader in the field of economic development.”


Kakacek obtained her bachelor’s degree in Political Science with an emphasis in Public Administration from the University of South Dakota and obtained recognition as a Certified Economic Development Professional (CEcD) in the fall of 2020 from the International Economic Development Council. The CEcD program is the most prestigious designation in the economic development profession, and recognition shows that you have the breadth of knowledge to perform at the top level in the profession.

Mid-America Economic Development Council Presents Award to Watertown Development

CHICAGO, IL –  The Watertown Development Company (WDC) was recognized with an award for its efforts in attracting workforce on Thursday in Chicago.


Michelle Kakacek, Director of Business Development for the WDC, accepted the award in the Workforce and Talent category for WDC’s Intern Engagement Initiative, a collection of tools designed to engage summer interns and integrate them into the community via networking opportunities and introduction to local attractions and amenities, greatly improving the probability of those interns returning to Watertown after graduation.


The WDC, with assistance from a committee within the WDC-administered Watertown Workforce Advisory Council, collaborated on ideas to encourage interns to bond with the community and gain a real sense of living and working in Watertown post-graduation. In 2020, the committee created a “Passport to Watertown” to be given to interns, which included a free pass to the city attraction of their choice and $20 in Chamber Bucks to kick-start their Watertown experience. The Passports were designed with graphics from nine Watertown attractions and included QR codes linking to lists of events and restaurants and maps of recreational trails. A Connections card was included as well, to encourage networking. In 2021, the Passport added an additional attractions pass, plus a visitor discount card. Also in 2021, an in-person event was held to allow interns to network with community leaders and other interns.


WDC’s “Attract and Enhance” program, which provides matching funds for relocations and training, complimented the above engagement efforts by providing matching funds to companies for intern relocations, helping alleviate some of the housing cost burden for students in Watertown for the summer.


Kakacek noted the Intern Engagement Initiative as “an excellent example of the impact and importance of collaboration in attracting and retaining our area workforce.”


For many years, The Mid-America Economic Development Council has sponsored the annual Economic Development Awards competition to recognize and stimulate the creative use of quality marketing by economic development organizations throughout the 13-state Mid-America region in promoting their respective communities.


Mid-America EDC members are dedicated economic development professionals who share best practices to add value in their organizations and communities.


Mid-America EDC is a multi-state association dedicated to being the leading resource for making contact with site selectors, advancing regional economic development programs, and accessing thought leadership.


Kakacek and other award recipients will also be recognized in the January issue of Site Selection magazine.


For more information about The Mid-America Economic Development Council, visit www.midamericaedc.org.

Watertown Development CoMPany Announces New Executive Director

News Release
April 16th, 2021
7:00 A.M.
Contact: Traci Stein
Director of Marketing and Public Communication
Phone: 605 884 0340
Email: traci@wdcsd.com


WATERTOWN, S.D. —Watertown Development Company (WDC) is pleased to announce the appointment of Mark Vaux as Executive Director.


Mark brings to the WDC a diverse background that includes a proven record of community service, with sixteen years in economic development; serving as CEO of a 450+ member chamber of commerce and 200+ member economic development corporation, and working as a Senior Business Development Representative for the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). Throughout his career, he was fortunate to have made connections with key stakeholders in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

His roots began in Watertown and he has spent many of his years in economic development working closely with the WDC on several business expansion and retention plans.


“My parents were born and raised in Watertown, and my grandfather, Claude Paterson, was the Chief of Police in the late ’50s to early ’60s. From my years with then-Congressman Thune, and while at GOED, I spent a lot of time in Watertown working on a variety of projects with the WDC. I have always been impressed with the vision and passion of the WDC team, the board, and civic and business leaders. I’m excited to join the community and keep building on the momentum.”


Mark has led many successful economic development initiatives, including the implementation of a public-private workforce development council to address workforce needs, successfully collecting more than $70,000 from a fundraising campaign to support it. He also led the efforts of a public/private partnership to address the community’s affordable housing needs by securing a large donation of land from a business for housing development. As the GOED’s Business Representative, Mark played a key role in developments such as a food processing plant in Huron, the wind manufacturing plant in Aberdeen, and the recruitment of a call center.


It was also under Mark’s leadership in Mitchell that led the redevelopment efforts of Main St Mitchell, which included the acquisition and development of five new properties/businesses in six months.


Jim Redlinger, board chair of the WDC, said of Vaux’s hiring, “The WDC Board of Directors is excited to work with Mark as the new executive director of the WDC. He is well known in the state of South Dakota. We’ve previously crossed paths with Mark in economic development projects in Watertown and I believe he will prove invaluable in his new position at the WDC. We look forward to working with Mark in 2021 and beyond.” Redlinger added, “The WDC Board, along with its staff, thank Chris Schilken for his leadership and the commitment he has given the WDC during his three years as executive director. His contributions have been significant.”

Michele Kakacek Receives Designation

Michelle Kakacek, Director of Business Development of the Watertown Development Company in Watertown, South Dakota earned the designation of Certified Economic Developer (CEcD), a national recognition that denotes a mastery of skills in economic development, professional attainment and a commitment to personal and professional growth.


The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) administered the first-ever Virtual CEcD Exam on October 3, 2020, and notified candidates of their results on October 9, 2020. With six years of economic development experience, Kakacek has been an integral part of many sectors in the Watertown Development Company. Leading the Workforce Development program, Kakacek works closely with the Watertown Workforce Advisory Council and other local stakeholders to develop and execute programs designed to recruit workforce to Watertown and retain and up-skill the area’s incumbent workforce – such as the WDC’s Attract & Enhance Program. She has played an active role in the revitalization of Downtown Watertown,  helping redevelop several properties to bring new small businesses to the city’s core. Kakacek also works closely on industrial business retention and expansion, working with business prospects and managing projects for new and expanding companies.


“I do whatever I can, wherever I can, to help and hope that the next project can build on the last. As long as we continue to press forward with meaningful action, our community will keep going in a positive direction,” said Kakacek.


The CEcD designation recognizes qualified and dedicated practitioners in the economic development field and sets the standard of excellence within the profession. Candidates must pass a rigorous and comprehensive examination, which has three parts and spans two days. The exam tests a practitioner’s knowledge, proficiency, and judgment in the following key areas of economic development:

  • business retention and expansion
  • finance & credit analysis
  • marketing and attraction
  • strategic planning
  • entrepreneurial & small business development
  • managing economic development organizations
  • neighborhood development strategies
  • real estate development & reuse
  • technology-led economic development
  • workforce development strategies
  • foreign direct investment & exporting


As highly competent economic development professionals, Certified Economic Developers work with public officials, business leaders and community members to create leadership to build upon and maximize the economic development sector.  Excellence in the economic development profession improves the well-being, quality of life, and opportunities for individuals, businesses, and communities. There are currently over 1,100 active CEcDs in the United States.


About the International Economic Development Council

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) is a non-profit membership organization serving economic developers. With more than 5,000 members, IEDC is the largest organization of its kind. Economic developers promote economic well-being and quality of life for their communities, by creating, retaining, and expanding jobs that facilitate growth, enhance wealth and provide a stable tax base. From public to private, rural to urban, and local to international, IEDC’s members are engaged in the full range of economic development experience. Given the breadth of economic development work, our members are employed in a wide variety of settings including local, state, provincial, and federal governments, public-private partnerships, chambers of commerce, universities, and a variety of other institutions. IEDC’s members create high-quality jobs, develop vibrant communities, and improve the quality of life in their regions www.iedcONLINE.org.


About the Watertown Development Company

Founded by a group of far-sighted business leaders, the WDC is organized as a private non-profit economic development corporation for the purpose of establishing, funding and directing programs designed to promote and increase the commercial, financial and economic vitality of the City of Watertown and its citizens. The organization is responsible for the creation of jobs and overall economic opportunity and owns and operates buildings, lands, and development areas for the economic benefit of Watertown.

Watertown Development Company Adds New Member to Team

The Watertown Development Company (WDC) is pleased to announce the addition of Amanda Culhane as their new Marketing and Administrative Specialist.


Culhane, formerly the Marketing Coordinator at Persona, brings to the group over 10 years of graphic design and marketing experience. Her main duties will be handling all WDC social media accounts, designing marketing collateral and any other marketing overflow. She will also assist with property management and any administrative needs.


“It felt almost surreal to be interviewed and hired for a new job amidst all the chaos of layoffs and business closures caused by the pandemic.” Culhane said “I feel very lucky, and it shows not only how resilient the WDC is, but how important it is to keep the momentum going on these projects for the progression of Watertown.”


Originally from Ohio, Culhane attended South Dakota State University (SDSU) where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in graphic design with minors in art and business. It’s there where she met her husband, Liam Culhane, who would later bring her back to settle down in his hometown.


“Between our careers, getting married and buying a house, we feel that Watertown is the best place for us to be right now. Even though I’m not from here, I’ve formed a lot of strong relationships with people in the community over the past six years and have a terrific group of friends” said Culhane. “I’m looking forward to using my skills and ‘outsider perspective’ to generate new ideas and help with any future development projects in Watertown.”


Culhane lives on a small acreage on the north side of town where she and her husband plan to have a few smaller farm animals and a large garden in the upcoming years. When she’s not busy preserving this year’s harvest or trying out new recipes, you can find her enjoying the nice weather on Lake Kampeska or hiking around the Black Hills.