Tom Johnson serves as chief executive officer of Elevate Rapid City. Courtesy photo

Native Sun News Today: Building trust though diversity

RAPID CITY – Tom Johnson, CEO of Elevate Rapid City, grew up on the Wind River Indian Reservation but is not a registered tribal member.

While being raised far away from population centers he and his family was forced to travel long distances in order to purchase supplies. He frequented border towns like Lander, Wyoming, and further, larger towns like Rawlins and Casper, Wyoming.

Now, as Johnson is working with Elevate Rapid City, a strategic economic growth and development firm, he understands the importance of a rural trade area around a population center like Rapid City.

“The trade area of Rapid City from the census is Pennington and Meade Counties, but, if you look at the data, residents are driving from Spearfish and the reservations,” he said. “The whole trade area for Rapid City is more likely, depending on the industry, is between 300-500 thousand people.”

Realizing the full potential of Rapid City’s trade area requires involvement of Native Americans and the maximization of their purchasing power, and Tom understands the past and current relationship between a largely white border town and its Native American reservation neighbors.

“There has been several hundred years of historical trauma and race relations here that have had fits and stops,” he said. “So you have to recognize that exists as a context that overlays all of this. So we recognize that and understand that there is a perspective there where you have to build trust across those cultures.”

For Johnson, building trust will be the cornerstone to repairing the relationship between border town and reservation.

“The challenge, I think for all Rapid City business owners, is to try and create an environment which is welcoming to all cultures and people and they feel comfortable coming in to the business,” he said.


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