Economic leaders try to turn names from Noem’s recruiting ads into residents

Economic development groups that helped fund Gov. Noem’s ‘Freedom Works Here’ campaign in South Dakota say that they’re also doing the heavy lifting of recruiting workers to the state. 

Noem’s office has touted a trend of politically motivated individuals, many of them at or near retirement age, who have helped boost South Dakota’s population by seeking more lenient tax structures or escaping what they perceived as heavy-handed COVID-era policies.

For South Dakota businesses, however, skilled workers between the ages of 25 and 35 are the “sweet spot” they would like to attract as the state’s unemployment rate hovers at 1.9%, with about 20,000 open jobs. The process of trying to persuade younger workers to take a job in South Dakota is a painstaking process that goes beyond political platitudes, they say.

Economic development corporations and some major employers were solicited for contributions by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development in August to help extend a national run of Noem’s TV and social media commercials. That helped fund a $1.5 million “phase two” of advertisements that GOED said will roll out soon.

At a Nov. 13 meeting in Pierre, members of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee pointed to the lack of hard data connecting new residents to the Freedom Works Here campaign, as opposed to those who made the decision for other reasons.

The legislative oversight is focused on more than $5 million in Future Fund dollars used to enlist the marketing and distribution services of Ohio-based Strategic Media Services and Tennessee-based Designsensory Inc. as part of the GOED initiative.

Economic development officials interviewed by News Watch said they are concerned about getting their money’s worth. As part of their investment, they received raw data of respondents who signed up or provided information through the Freedom Works Here website, a total of about 7,500 names and email addresses.

Noem’s office and GOED claim that more than 1,800 applicants “are in the final stages” of moving to South Dakota. Ebeling told News Watch that number is based on how many people created an account on the South Dakota Works website through the Department of Labor and Regulation to explore employment options in the state. It’s not clear how many will actually relocate.

by Stu Whitney, South Dakota News Watch


November 29, 2023