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Third Annual 'Energize!' Conference Sees Sustained Success

Originally released September 2, 2021.

BROOKINGS, S.D. - From Aug. 11-12, the community of Milbank brought together a national speaker, as well as innovators and service providers from across the state to celebrate and learn about the successes and struggles of rural South Dakota communities. An opportunity to hear about successful revitalizations, community projects and business opportunities, this year’s Energize! Conference drew more than 100 people.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the support and ‘boots-on-the-ground’ hustle put forward by the Milbank community for the 2021 Energize! Conference,” says Kari O’Neill, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension Community Vitality Program Manager. “A third successful Energize! effort has given South Dakotans a unique platform to feature the amazing work happening in their communities.”

Like its preceding two iterations in De Smet and Lemmon, the conference utilized the unique “Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities” model to get attendees “out-and-about” in the community’s core commercial areas. Developed by Michigan State University Extension, the program focuses on the value of entrepreneurship and creating environments conducive to entrepreneurship growth.

This year’s program featured a special keynote speech and sessions from the Chief Brand Officer of Deluxe, Amanda Brinkman. Brinkman is most notably the creator, producer and host of the hit television series “Small Business Revolution.” The inspirational reality show streams on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video and was named among Inc. Magazine’s “top shows for entrepreneurs.”

The conference will return in 2022, with a quick turnaround to accommodate its normal scheduling in the spring.

“COVID-19 was a challenge for all of us, but we appreciated Milbank’s persistence and look forward to hosting the fourth Energize! Conference in the spring of 2022,” O’Neill says.

The event will move to the western half of the state next year, and applications are now being accepted from interested communities. Interested parties should contact O’Neill at or Peggy Schlechter at for information on how to apply, with applications due by Oct. 15.