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The Best Towns in South Dakota for Young Families

Dec. 7, 2013
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When young families settle down, they look for more than just a home. Beyond a reasonable cost of living, they look for a community to invest in, both in its job market and its schools. With that in mind, we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across the state to identify the best for young families:

  1. Does the town have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This non-profit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a 1 to 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at both median home values in each town and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  3. Is the town growing and prospering? We assessed a town’s economy by looking at average household income and income growth over the last decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.
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The Best Towns for Young Families 

1. Yankton

Yankton is the seat of Yankton County, in the state’s southeastern region. Students at Yankton High School regularly outperform the state average on the ACT; this past year, on average, they scored a 22.2. The school serves older residents, too. In collaboration with Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls, they offer adult-education programs, post-secondary courses and a GED prep class. Mounty Marty College is in Yankton, too, and it boasts a 96 percent job-placement rate.

2. Mitchell

Mitchell is the seat of Davison County, about an hour’s drive from Sioux Falls. The community has an excellent school system, as it graduated 93.4 percent of its students this past academic year – over 10 points higher than the state rate. Adults, too, have opportunities for education. Dakota Wesleyan University has an MBA program designed specifically for entrepreneurs who want to work small, non-publicly traded businesses.

3. Elk Point

Elk Point is the seat of Union County and a part of the Sioux City metro area. The larger Siouxland Tri-State Area has seen its job market grow significantly in the last year, adding 2,500 jobs – the labor force, both unemployed and employed, has grown by 2,300. With this growth, Elk Point has seen its unemployment rate drop nearly half a percent in one year.

4. North Sioux City

North Sioux City is just 10 minutes from downtown Sioux City. Despite its proximity to a major job market, North Sioux City also boasts the lowest median home values of any city in the top 10, at $98,900. The schools are great, too, with Dakota Valley School District students outperforming the state average on STEP in reading and math, at almost every grade level.

5. Tea

Tea is a suburb of Sioux Falls in Lincoln County, and it is one of the fastest-growing communities in the state. The city more than doubled in size last decade – 118.4-percent growth to be precise. Mirroring its population growth, the City of Tea also saw the highest growth in income in the top 10, with a 48.3-percent increase between 1999 and 2011.

6. Watertown

Watertown is the seat of Codington County, in east-central South Dakota. The local school district serves 4,000 students and boasts a computer-to-student ratio of 2:1. Furthermore, according to the Watertown Development Company, the city has invested $43.6 million in infrastructure in the last three years to accommodate future growth.

7. Volga

Volga is seven miles from the City of Brookings and is home to an excellent school district. At every level, students in the Sioux Valley School District have outperformed the state on STEP; 86 percent of its high school students, for example, achieve at a “proficient” or “advanced” level in math, compared to 69 percent of the state as a whole. Every year, the faculty looks to improve those scores, too, with what they call a Data Retreat.

8. Harrisburg

Harrisburg is about 10 miles from the quickly growing Sioux Falls. As thousands come to the metro area every year, Harrisburg, in particular, has seen tremendous growth. The population more than quadrupled last decade, growing from 958 people in 2000 to 4,089 in 2010. This growth is due, in part, to the low cost of business in the area as well as the expansion of medical research at Sioux Falls hospitals, according to local journalist Kealey Bultena.

9. Spearfish

Spearfish is in Lawrence County, in western South Dakota. The community is home to Black Hills State University, the third-largest university in the state and one of Spearfish’s largest employers. For fun, residents can enjoy the city’s 17 parks, 14 tennis courts and eight ball fields; for sportsmen, there is the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery.

10. Aberdeen

Aberdeen is the third-largest city in the state, in Brown County. The local school district includes seven No Child Left Behind Distinguished Schools, and its teachers have an average 17 years of experience in their profession. The community is also distinguished for its higher education with Northern State University, which offers 41 undergraduate bachelor’s degree programs, eight associate degree programs, eight certificates and nine master’s degree programs.

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Yankton 7 $121,600 $1,080 $46,042 44.6% 63.8
2 Mitchell 8 $110,500 $1,132 $40,850 30.5% 63.4
3 Elk Point Sioux City, IA 7 $120,500 $1,198 $57,031 38.6% 63.0
4 North Sioux City Sioux City, IA 7 $98,900 $1,148 $51,974 32.1% 61.7
5 Tea Sioux Falls 6 $158,000 $1,339 $75,136 48.3% 61.5
6 Watertown 8 $128,400 $1,127 $42,449 23.6% 61.1
7 Volga Brookings 8 $128,800 $1,079 $49,400 18.1% 60.9
8 Harrisburg Sioux Falls 7 $162,100 $1,331 $68,146 33.1% 60.4
9 Spearfish 8 $165,600 $1,277 $35,476 31.9% 59.6
10 Aberdeen 7 $123,600 $1,113 $43,479 30.7% 59.3
11 Pierre 7 $145,700 $1,243 $56,161 30.7% 59.3
12 Brookings 8 $140,000 $1,213 $38,536 23.3% 59.3
13 Milbank 7 $104,900 $1,231 $37,537 33.1% 59.0
14 Lennox Sioux Falls 6 $114,200 $1,313 $50,944 44.7% 59.0
15 Belle Fourche Spearfish 5 $107,600 $1,056 $41,014 52.6% 57.8


The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

41 South Dakota cities and areas designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 2,000 were considered.

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