by Terrie Ellerbee/editor-Midwest
South Dakota native Nathan Sanderson had every intention of becoming a high school teacher. Instead, he found himself working for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture in the state capital of Pierre (pronounced “pier,” by the way) as deputy policy director. He held that role for about nine months, then took over as director for a year or so. Then he worked on agriculture policy for Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
When Daugaard became governor, Sanderson went to work for him in 2011. For four years he was the governor’s policy advisor and then took on the role of director of policy and operations about four years ago.
Following eight years in the governor’s office, the South Dakota Retailers Association (SDRA) opportunity presented itself and he moved to its office, which is located right across the street from the capitol. He can see his old office from the new one.
Sanderson already was very familiar with the association. He respects its long history and said that “as retail organizations go nationwide, I feel like we’re in the top echelon.
“We were founded in 1897 and we’ve got almost 4,000 members and 160 different business categories, including a very large number of grocery stores,” Sanderson told The Shelby Report. “We’ve got a broad-based membership and in South Dakota we’re one of a very few really large, statewide influential organizations.”
Former Gov. Daugaard himself said the SDRA “probably is the most effective statewide business organization” when he took part in honoring previous executive director Shawn Lyons, who had served the organization for 13 years and had received the National Retail Federation J. Thomas Weyant Award in recognition of his service. Lyons stepped down from the position in June of 2018 for health reasons.
Sanderson’s tenure began Oct. 1.
“It’s just a tremendous opportunity and it’s been fantastic so far. I’m looking forward to what 2019 brings,” Sanderson said.
Legislature expected to continue to be business friendly
South Dakota is a business-friendly state and Sanderson said the SDRA hopes to keep it that way.
“Nobody is talking about increasing the sales tax,” he said. “Nobody is talking about a lot of the things that you see in, say, New York or Washington state or Oregon or California related to employees and the notice that a business owner must give employees prior to changing their shift. We’re not likely to see that here anytime soon, which is good.”
He said the association also will be watching out for “social issue” bills, like, for example, the so-called “bathroom bill” in North Carolina in 2016 that would have required individuals to use the sex-appropriate facility based on a determination of their sex as defined in some specific way, like a birth certificate. He said he doesn’t necessarily expect anything like that to come up.
The Shelby Report reached Sanderson on Jan. 3. The first day of the 2018 South Dakota legislative session was on Jan. 8. He described the time in between as like being in the “eye of a hurricane,” as it remained to be seen what issues might crop up.
“We have a new governor, a new legislature, a new attorney general and new constitutional officers in several different offices,” Sanderon said. “I’m certain there are going to be topics that I can’t even envision right now that we’re going to be dealing with come February or March.”
Daugaard reached his term limit of eight years, so he did not run again in 2018. Continuing South Dakota’s streak for having one party control the governorship since 1979, Republican Kristi Lynn Noem was elected in 2018 and took office in January. Noem served eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives and prior to that was a state lawmaker for four years.
“She is going to be, I am sure, a strong, decisive leader,” Sanderson said. “I have known her since she was in South Dakota’s legislature. She actually represented my home district in our state. I’m looking forward to a good relationship with Gov. Noem and her team.”
South Dakota paves way for Main Street’s level field
The South Dakota legislature likely will take up the implementation of online sales taxes.
In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of South Dakota in a case—South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc.—that established tax fairness between brick-and-mortar businesses and large, out of state online companies. In the past, these “remote sellers” did not have to remit sales taxes if they did not have a physical presence in the state. The ruling meant that South Dakota could require remote sellers to remit sales tax on purchases shipped into the state.
Lyons and the SDRA played a pivotal role in the passage of the 2016 state law that led to the court case. SDRA also filed two briefs with SCOTUS in support of the state. Sanderson praised the work the association did long before he came on board.
“We really had a near perfect alignment in South Dakota. We had a longstanding association that’s been involved in this for its retailers. We had a governor who was receptive, an attorney general who was receptive and a legislature that understands the value of Main Street,” Sanderson said. “It just couldn’t have worked out any better from our perspective.”
The state began requiring remote sellers to collect and pay sales tax starting on Nov. 1, 2018. It applies to businesses outside of the state who make more than $100,000 in sales in South Dakota and/or have 200 or more separate transactions that result in products being delivered in the state.
South Dakota does not have a state income tax but has a statewide sales and use tax instead. Sanderson said that moderates the peaks and valleys other states may see from time to time.
He does see the same issues other states are having as far as big box store closings and empty malls.
“But the converse is when people’s taste change, they’re looking back to Main Street,” Sanderson said. “You see all sorts of vibrant Main Streets in South Dakota. Rapid City is excellent. Brookings’ downtown is just amazing. Sioux Falls is doing amazing things. There are great things happening around the state. I would say we’re very optimistic about the retail industry in South Dakota.”
The long and short road to SDRA
Sanderson majored in agriculture education at South Dakota State University with animal science, history and geography minors. He married while in college and both he and his wife, Tiffany, were actively involved in the National FFA Organization. She took a job in Indianapolis after college and he followed here there.
In Indiana, he worked on an ag research farm. He got a master’s degree in American history and earned his Ph.D. in history at the University of Nebraska.
The couple had just had their son and had just bought a house in Lincoln they planned to remodel when he got an email from SDSU telling him about the deputy policy director job in Pierre.
The rest is history, as they say. Time will tell whether Sanderson someday teaches it.
A plethora of services
Even as familiar as he was with the organization, Sanderson said he did not fully appreciate how many services SDRA provides for its members. It runs the gamut from insurance to credit card processing to an HR attorney with whom members may consult for no charge. SDRA has an annual contract with an attorney for that service, which offers basic advice.
“Now if you really get into something specific and need to go above and beyond what the base level pays for, then that individual business can, of course, develop a relationship with the attorney and go above and beyond the free service we provide,” Sanderson said. “But most businesses just like to know that somebody’s got their back with a simple question. But there’s nothing black and white in HR, so they really like that confidence that they get, and it doesn’t cost them anything to just pick up the phone.”
Other services include PCI compliance, discount shipping, social media marketing, music licensing, data security, workers compensation insurance and health, vision and dental programs.