Revitalizing rural South Dakota

February 4, 2019

Hometowns are the heartbeat of South Dakota. I’m proud to be from a rural hometown. It’s where I learned the values of hard work and self-reliance, where Bryon and I chose to raise our kids, where we started an insurance business and hunting lodge, and where my family has farmed and ranched for a century. But many small towns like ours are struggling today.

As I tour our state’s businesses and meet with employers, I heard the same challenge of what is holding them back: workforce shortages.

In South Dakota, according to our most recent statistics, we have 15,363 job openings and 13,600 people actively looking for work. Unfortunately, what we have is a skills gap – those unemployed workers don’t have the skills necessarily to fill the open jobs. 

I strongly believe that the best way to prepare our young people for their careers is through work experience. Over the coming year, I’m asking school leaders to work with me to dramatically increase work experience in our high schools.  We need more CTE and skills training in high school.  We need more apprenticeship programs.  And we need more opportunities for young people to get out of the classroom and experience a real job.   

I would like our high schools to join together each year to hold a “Week of Work.”  This will be a special week when every high school student will get out of the classroom to experience a day on the job. I hope this can lead to schools coordinating more internships and experience-based classes.   

Another state-imposed barrier to workforce can be professional licensure.  I am directing the Department of Labor and Regulation, over the next year, to work with our professional organizations and licensure boards to conduct a full review of licensing requirements.  We need to consider the elimination of unnecessary licenses, opportunities to streamline the licensure process, and options to fast-track licenses for apprentices, in-state graduates, veterans, and military personnel and their families. We can’t let unneeded red tape get in the way of growth.  

Furthermore, I want to break down barriers to help fill workforce shortages. In our smaller communities and more rural areas, affordable housing creates difficulties for employers. Earlier this year, I announced a pilot project by the South Dakota Housing Development Authority to help fix this problem.

We will be building new modular multi-housing units, called DakotaPlex, at the state prison facility in Springfield. It will be similar to the Governor’s Houses, but built as duplex, triplex, or quadriplex units.  South Dakota communities of less than 5000 people will be eligible to purchase these units and offer them for rent at affordable levels. 

I’m confident this new project will help our smaller communities expand housing options for workers.  I believe the most sustainable way to strengthen rural communities is to expand economic opportunity, and that can only come from a healthy workforce.

I am fully committed to revitalizing South Dakota’s rural culture, so small-town schools and businesses can thrive for generations to come.