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East Coast couple finds early-career opportunities with Sioux Falls move

  • May 2, 2024

Think people don’t move across the country because of a humorous YouTube video?

Meet Steven Munoz and Ashley Neely, who didn’t even know about South Dakota until they saw Gov. Kristi Noem dressed as a dentist in an ad for working in the state on YouTube.

“I barely knew Mount Rushmore was here,” Munoz said. “I didn’t know any of the towns.”

But he and Neely knew they wanted to be together. After meeting in college, they were dating long-distance – he in New York and she in Connecticut – and liked the idea of a fresh start, even if it did mean halfway across the country.

Steven Munoz and Ashley Neely

“I was looking to get out of New York because it’s expensive to live there and would have taken me years to buy a house,” said Munoz, who went to tech school for an auto diesel program.

Neely, who was working for a private school in marketing and development, originally learned about the South Dakota videos from her sister.

“It was motivational and upbeat and kind of piqued our interest,” she said. “He started looking into it first, really pounding the pavement looking for a job, and then I said I’ve got to get going.”

Steven Munoz and Ashley Neely

None of it took long. Munoz first reached out in South Dakota in September and by November was part of a technical apprentice program at Cummins in Sioux Falls, learning to work with diesel engines and generators.

“It’s a six-year program where they get you all learned up and you start working on generators,” he said. “It all moved really fast.”

Neely applied for a couple of jobs and soon was hired as the marketing and communications coordinator for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire.

But first, they visited last fall.

Steven Munoz and Ashley Neely at Falls Park In Sioux Falls SD

“I figured we should before I move 1,500 miles, and we really liked the town,” she said. “We just explored for a long weekend, we visited the Falls and did a lot of sightseeing and visited places for apartments, and it just felt really comfortable here. Everybody was kind, and I was like, this is different. We noticed there wasn’t even a lot of road rage compared to where we come from. I realized I was really calm driving the whole time!”

He moved to Sioux Falls in November, and she began her new role in January.

“It really was an excellent hiring process and made me excited to be here because it gave me insight into how people operate here, and I’ve had a great time getting to know the kids and the families we serve,” she said.

They’ve moved into a roomy apartment in Harrisburg.

“I love it,” Munoz said. “We’re in a town house, we have a garage, which is super nice, and it’s affordable, which is really nice.”

They estimate that “what we have for a home here would have been double or close to triple on the East Coast,” Neely added.

The couple’s experience is a great example of what awaits other young professionals in Sioux Falls, said Denise Guzzetta, vice president of talent and workforce development for the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

Both of them have met friends through their jobs who have helped them learn more about the area. In their spare time, they’ve enjoyed the Great Plains Zoo and checking out area antique stores.

Steven Munoz with Giraffe

“And we’ve been driving around a lot of the different towns,” Neely said. “We went to Canton, we went to Tea, he learned about Flandreau on a job, so we went there and one weekend and saw bison. I want to do more downtown because there are a lot of cute little shops and bars to go to.”

While they got engaged last year, they haven’t set a date or place yet. But in looking at their future, both say they’re feeling positive about the move west.

“The other day, he joked there was a job opportunity in Orlando – because I’m a huge Disney person – and I actually said: ‘I like my job. We’ll stay here,’” Neely said.

For Munoz, who loved his job from the start, “it was nice to hear” his fiancee feels the same, she said.

She already knows where he stands too.

“He’s ready to stay in South Dakota forever.”

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