AP NEWS

South Dakota truck stop helps workers become homeowners

July 7, 2018

SUMMIT, S.D. (AP) — A truck stop 30 miles north of Watertown, wedged between Interstate 29 and the town of Summit, has for decades provided convenience for travelers on long trips or in rough weather.

But in the last few years, the Coffee Cup Travel Plaza has also started providing a convenience for some of its 50-plus employees.

The business offers workers the chance to be homeowners through what is essentially a rent-to-own program.

One person taking advantage of the benefit is Joshua Simpson, who found himself traveling up the interstate several years ago when he moved from Rock Hill, South Carolina.

He began working for the Coffee Cup in 2012. And for the last four years, he’s lived in nearby housing built by truck stop owner Tom Heinz.

“After I finished up all my training, Tom talked to me about this vision he had for keeping workers. And that was to give housing,” Simpson told the Aberdeen American News .

Being able to rent a house affordably was a perk Simpson could easily get on board with. At the time, he was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Summit with his wife and son.

Now the 26-year-old is proud to own the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house.

“That’s the first step to building a legacy for me. Having a place to plant my roots. And (Heinz is) giving me that,” Simpson said.

The houses for Coffee Cup workers are a block or two east of the truck stop, said manager Val Nelson.

Nearby Summit has roughly 385 residents, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Housing is limited, Simpson said.

A May listing of available housing revealed only one-bedroom apartments and two larger homes available. That’s why the homes have helped draw the right people for Coffee Cup leadership and management positions, Nelson said.

“When you live in a small community, it’s kind of hard to fish that out,” she said.

Keeping staff is hard, she said. And caring for employees is a priority for Heinz, according to Nelson.

Heinz first built two houses off-site and had them moved in, she said. Now there are six with more to come. And all are occupied by employees, 10 in all, Nelson said.

“It’s worked to our benefit because we don’t have turnover,” she said.

It also helps in the winter, when the weather in the area can be anywhere from mysterious to miserable.

“We all know what Summit is like in the winter, and in the fog as well,” Nelson said.

In those cases, the housing proximity ensures staff will be able to get to work safely.

Being from the South, Simpson had very little experience with winter weather until he moved to South Dakota.

“That’s how I learned to drive in the winter — taking that little track (between the houses and the Coffee Cup) back and forth,” he said.

The employees rent the homes. However, for every year that they live in them and work for the Coffee Cup they get a discount off the purchase price. At the end of the lease, they can decide whether they want to buy the house, Simpson said.

The leases help guarantee that employees stay with the business as well, Nelson said. She said she couldn’t disclose the monthly rent, but noted that it’s affordable — in the neighborhood of what Simpson was paying for his one-bedroom apartment.

And that’s a big draw. Simpson was the first employee to move into a house, he and Nelson both said. And he has no plans of leaving any time soon.

Many of the other residents are friends he’s recruited from near and far. Most aren’t from the region, but all of the people living in the houses work at the Coffee Cup. That includes husband-and-wife teams, siblings and others.

″(I’ll work here) until I buy my house completely,” Simpson said. “I told my wife that will be the last house I live in. And it’s not all your eggs in one basket if you don’t want it to be. (Having the option to rent then buy) made it seem better, like you had more freedom in your choices.

“Tom has a big heart for someone to be in a position that he is. He knows my wife. He knows my kids. His personal interest is to get involved and actually care about the people he has working for him.”

The Coffee Cup underwent a major upgrade a few years ago to add the Caribou Coffee, Subway and Pizza Hut. It will add Cinnabon and more gas pumps come fall, Nelson said.

“Because if you’ve been here, you know you have to wait,” she said.

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Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com

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