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Regional Families Celebrated at 2020 Family Business Conference

Venky Venkatachalam, Ph.D., dean at the Beacom School of Business giving the welcome at the 28th Annual Family Business Conference. Venky Venkatachalam, Ph.D., dean of the USD Beacom School of Business, opened the 28th Annual Family Business Conference with remarks.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The Prairie Family Business Association hosted their 28th Annual Family Business Conference both in-person at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Sioux Falls and virtually for attendees from 19 states and Canada for a total of more than 400 attendees on Sept. 17. This was the largest-ever Prairie Family Business Association annual conference.

During the conference, Prairie Family Business Association recognized two exceptional families for the Heritage Award and the Vicki Clarke Family Business of the Year Award. The Heritage Award recognizes a family business that was founded more than 75 years ago while the Vicki Clarke Family Business of the Year is given in memory of Vicki Clarke, a former advisory board member of the Prairie Family Business Association.

This year’s recipient of the Heritage Award was the Johnson Family of Reliabank. Founded in 1920 as The Farmers National Bank of South Shore, the Johnson family has held ownership since 1967 which now includes the third generation of Johnsons. Reliabank has grown to offer nine locations across Eastern South Dakota while remaining focused on hometown service for their local customers. Reliabank has been celebrating their 100th anniversary throughout 2020.

The second family honored was the 2020 recipient of the Vicki Clarke Prairie Family Business of the Year Award, the Simmers Family of Bismarck Aero Center. Bismarck Aero Center was founded in 1990 by Bob Simmers and is currently led by second generation owner Jon Simmers. What started with a focus on piloting services, expanded in 2002 to include aircraft maintenance and ground support with help from then partner Mike Aarestad. The expansion of services allowed the company to grow and now has 45 employees.

Other highlights from the conference include a virtual wine tasting with the J. Lohr family of J. Lohr Vineyard and Wines; Mike Paton, global ambassador for EOS Worldwide on implementing EOS in family businesses; and Stacey Pearson, former director of strategic operations at OtterBox on the strategy implemented which facilitated their growth.

Plans are already underway for the 2021 Annual Conference, scheduled for April 29-30.

Prairie Family Business Association was founded in 1993 as the South Dakota family business initiative through the University of South Dakota Beacom School of Business with the mission of enhancing the long-term survival and success of its family business members.


USD's Beacom School of Business was established in 1927 and has been accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) since 1949. The leading business school in the region, Beacom’s programs are consistently ranked among the top business schools in the nation by Princeton Review, U.S. News & World Report and others for its high-quality learning experience, student success, affordability, and high-caliber of faculty and students. Whether a student chooses face-to-face or online courses, Beacom’s programs emphasize real-world experience through professional organizations, quality internships and capstone projects.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News