The SMGA’s mission is to stimulate, sustain and support the economic growth of the communities, businesses and general areas of the metro area outside Sioux Falls. As president and CEO, Tordsen, an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, is leading the organization into its next phase of growth and evolution.

“Adapting to the lead role of SMGA has been exciting,” said Tordsen, a lifelong South Dakotan originally from Rapid City. “Like with any new job, there’s a learning curve and introductions to processes and people that have to be made, but fortunately my conversations and the SMGA team of staff and board members have helped me adapt quickly.”

Tordsen, who also serves as a South Dakota state representative for District 14, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from USD in 2015. He began his journey at the state’s flagship university pursuing medical biology and political science, but after a few influential internship experiences and involvement in student organizations like Student Government Association, Tordsen altered his path, switching his majors to economics and political science.

When his time at USD came to an end, Tordsen already had a position lined up working with newly elected U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds’ team in the state’s capital. After working in Rounds’ Pierre office for two years, Tordsen was promoted to serve as his Southeast regional director in Sioux Falls – a position Tordsen held until entering his role at SGMA.

We asked the dynamic state leader and USD alumnus about his excitement for Sioux Falls’ future, his time at USD and what makes South Dakota so special – this is what he had to say.

Sioux Falls is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. How do you hope to contribute to this growth in your role at SMGA, and what aspects of Sioux Falls’ future development are you the most excited about?

I’m excited to be joining SMGA at this pivotal time for our state and region. SMGA is the largest regional economic development nonprofit in South Dakota. We have a 32-year history of serving the Sioux Falls metro area starting with Minnehaha County back in 1991. Today, SMGA serves Minnehaha, Lincoln, Turner and McCook counties along with 16 member municipalities. We also have corporate partners who care about growth in the region.

My experiences at USD and my previous job taught me how to listen, learn and talk to public officials. In my new job, I get to interact with local leaders at all levels. Mayors, councilors, commissioners, city staff, small business owners and others. There’s so much talk around regionalization and the different stages of growth happening in communities all around Sioux Falls. It’s exciting to be in the room where these conversations are occurring and helping to facilitate problem solving or resource connections to make growth happen in the Sioux Metro.

How did your time at USD prepare you for the work you do today?

As a lifelong South Dakotan and first-generation college student, I tell people that USD changed my life. From being involved in my fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha, to Tiospaye Student Council and SGA, the student organization experiences helped shape my leadership qualities. Academics were also very important in developing my organization techniques, teaching me how to research and find answers and connecting me with faculty and staff advisors to guide my future decision-making.

USD is blessed with the people it builds connections to. There are faculty, staff, students, administrators and other lifelong friends I’ve met along the way who have helped shape me into who I am today. I know I’m not alone in that either. That’s a common experience USD provides.

Can you share a defining moment or experience you had at USD that shaped your journey to where you are now?

A major experience I’m thankful for was serving as SGA president my senior year. After my academic advisors practically forced me to go to Pierre to intern my junior year, I came back and was encouraged by classmates to run for an open SGA senate seat. Getting involved in student government was a natural fit and spending the year serving as a student senator gave me the confidence to run for president. My running mate was a freshman senator who was also destined for leadership. It was fun to be a little unique in running an atypical senior-freshman ticket since I knew I was sticking around for a fifth year.

In order to get on the ballot, we had to secure over 500 signatures from students on campus, which is an impressive number compared to other local and state elected offices (most legislative candidates in SD only need 50 signatures to get on the ballot). We secured over 800 signatures to get on the ballot and spent the next two months conducting outreach meetings and talking to as many folks as we could. After the election, the service experience taught me a lot about working with others, solving problems and working on making a difference for a greater population. It also helped me develop relationships with university and statewide leadership.

How do you stay connected to USD?

I enjoyed my time at USD and gained so much from my experience there that it was hard to leave. Still is! However, I’ve tried to stay connected by attending as many events as possible. Athletic events, Dakota Days, reunions and more. I’ve stayed involved through serving as the chapter advisor to the gentlemen of Lambda Chi Alpha and was given the opportunity to join the USD Alumni Association board of directors in 2019. Working in Senator Rounds' office also gave me the chance to stay involved in Vermillion and the university. Now, serving on the education committee in the legislature just gives me another excuse to keep tabs on USD.

Why work in South Dakota? What makes our state so special?

South Dakota is a hidden gem in the world. We have a little bit of everything. That includes all four seasons. Sure, our winters are cold and our summers are hot, but the beauty of our state and our people are second to none. We also have the ultimate business and tax climate that rivals other states and nations. Our quality of life and cost of living is also unmatched. Our public higher education institutions like USD provide a world-class education and experience at prices that make a college degree attainable.

It's easy to sell South Dakota. This is the greatest place on the planet to live, work, and raise a family.

What is your why?

My “why” now is my family. I met my wife Erika (class of 2016) at USD and together we have two future Coyotes with our boys Emmett (3) and Atlas (1). South Dakota and USD gave us lifelong friends, skills and opportunities. Now we’re doing all we can to make sure that same opportunity remains there for the next generation.

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