Sioux City looks for identity in modernization, grows impatient with Washington

At the crossroads of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota is the region known as Siouxland, centered around Sioux City. Once a major stop for westward travelers during the 1800s, it has struggled to find an identity as it adapts and modernizes. But even with this modernity comes a strong conservative streak, holding onto traditional values and an old school mindset — especially when it comes to politics.

The population of Sioux City proper has stayed roughly the same at just over 80,000 since before the Great Depression — only growing by about 11,000 since 1920, and most of that was before World War II. At its height, it never broached 90,000, and it has fluctuated heavily over time thanks primarily to economic issues. This represents about half of the population of the entire Siouxland region.

But the region has seen massive growth in recent years, much of it driven during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s by Gateway Computers. But when the company relocated in 1998 to California, taking thousands of jobs with it, leaving the town in a depression — both economically and psychologically. Crime rates soared in the early part of the new millennium as the job market collapsed, and the 2008 financial crisis drove the city even further down.

However, with low employment and a shrinking population, the region became a hotspot for low-cost growth for many companies. New companies moved in in droves, with Tyson Foods leading the charge by acquiring smaller local companies and pumping new life into the town. Now more than 11 percent of the city works for Tyson, by far the largest employer in Siouxland.

The Tyson Events Center, The Gateway Arena, and The Longlines Family Rec Center

Other major employers include several medical campuses and a half-dozen higher education institutions. Agriculture is also still very prominent as an option for many, and government jobs are plentiful both in Sioux City proper and the surrounding areas.

While most of the people in Siouxland live on the Iowa side in Woodbury and Plymouth Counties, several thousand live across the Missouri River in smaller exurbs and towns in South Dakota and Nebraska. But the area as a whole is heavily tilted to the right — of the five counties in the metro area, the closest contest had Trump winning by 15 points, the other four counties featured numbers as far apart as 3-1.

The confluence of the Floyd and Missouri Rivers

With a population that skews heavily white and rural, this isn’t much of a surprise. However, the median age in Sioux City is much lower than the national average — as is the median income level — both typically recipes for left-leaning politics. But religion also plays a major role in people’s lives here, and social conservatism is the primary drive for many of the denizens, pushing them decidedly rightward.

Dissatisfaction with both Republicans and Democrats runs deep here as well. Trump won all five counties during the primary and caucus seasons in all three states. His outsider status to both parties overrode his decidedly unchristian behaviors and credentials — much as it did nationwide when he won the presidency.

But Trump’s victory and early presidency has done little to quell the unrest in Siouxland. While many are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and give him a chance to make good on his campaign promises, others have become increasingly dissatisfied with how he’s done so far. Reneging on campaign promises, contradicting others, and being generally ineffective have left many of his followers here with a bad taste in their mouths.

The Woodbury County Courthouse

Others are quick to lay the blame for Trump’s flailing presidency at the feet of the Democrats and establishment Republicans in Washington, accusing them of obstructionism. They believe Trump has had little chance to actually make good on his policies due to their intransigence. And as the nation’s capital continues to draw battle lines regarding the decidedly divisive president, Siouxland grows increasingly restless.

Whether this restlessness will lead to an even more outside candidate claiming victory in places like Sioux City or if it will lead to more voter disengagement remains to be seen. How effective President Trump is in his policies — and on which ones he is able to succeed — will likely determine which of these options is most likely. But for this heavily red region, patience is quickly running out.

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