Ignored along with low wages in Governor Dennis Daugaard's Workforce Summits: Indians. With thousands of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people on South Dakota's reservations shut out of South Dakota's workforce, the Governor held none of his six Workforce Summits in reservation towns, and the Workforce Summit report does not mention American Indians or reservations.

Enter Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls). The Republican legislator got brief mention at the bottom of one article about the Workforce Summit report, saying he thinks the Governor could do more to address workforce issues in the state's poorest areas. But the state's poorest areas don't vote or donate Republican, so don't expect much if any of the Governor's latest one million dollars of corporate welfare to go toward the reservations.

Into this glaring policy gap, Rep. Hickey throws the first draft of his SD TRADE plan, a proposal to include our Indian neighbors in the Governor's South Dakota WINS economic development program:

SD T.R.A.D.E.
South Dakota Tribal Resource and Development Exchange
Rep. Steve Hickey, SD-District 9.

SD TRADE is a proposed sub-initiative within the SD WINS workforce initiative.

As SD WINS seeks state “cross-collaboration” with communities and businesses, SD TRADE seeks state cross-collaboration with tribes and industry.

SD TRADE looks at the sober unemployment realities on our reservations not as a problem but as an opportunity.

SD TRADE seeks to create a perpetual jobs pipeline across South Dakota bring economic opportunity, development and prosperity to desperately impoverished areas in our state.

DEFINITIONS

Trade:

  1. The exchange of jobs and services
  2. A skilled job

SD TRADE employs both aspects of this definition exchanging land for skilled jobs.

Trade Center:

  1. A central location for commerce and industry
  2. A hub for job opportunity

REALITIES

South Dakota industries need workers to move into the state. South Dakota Indians need employment opportunities in the state.

South Dakota celebrates a low unemployment rate only because tribal unemployment statistics are excluded. The real unemployment rate in South Dakota which include tribal unemployment are much more dire.

How many potentially employable natives are on reservations without access to job opportunities? 10,000? Most certainly more.

Industries are not tapping into this available labor force on reservations for a variety of reasons, first and foremost of which are things like sovereignty issues and complication legal and tax uncertainties.

If our best minds can navigate through the complexities, obstacles and challenges to build a hundred clinics overseas, and if our industries can capitalize on exporting jobs overseas, and if our industries can get creative to import foreign labor into our state then surely our best minds can navigate the challenges of tapping into a challenging and remote labor force within our state.

WHAT IS SD TRADE?

SD TRADE encourages strategic land swaps between the state and the tribes. Tribes indefinitely release and legally assign (one hundred) acres to the state for the establishment of TRADE CENTERS (commercial and industrial) in exchange for (one thousand acres) of land the state deeds back to the tribes.

Imagine several TRADE CENTERS, one on Rosebud and others on Pine Ridge and Lower Brule. These are commercial and industrial work centers with various industries in one location, given tax and other incentives.

Industries at each TRADE CENTER contribute toward shift shuttles commuting workers back and forth to their communities each work day.

Pharmacies, clinics and support agencies can be encouraged to offer services adjacent to or within a TRADE CENTER complex.

South Dakota Tech Schools can be encouraged to develop onsite training for new recruits. State funds can be allocated to tech-ed schools for use in developing on-site skill training. Perhaps Federal funds are available and can be acquired for a TRADE CENTER pilot project.

South Dakota can ensure good roads from the Interstate to the various TRADE CENTER complex [Rep. Steve Hickey, draft proposal, 2014.09.04].

Land swaps to create economic development zones where we could plunk factories, offices, and training centers—fascinating! Our industry leaders find ways to make profits on production done thousands of miles away in Malaysia; what stands in the way of their using Hickey's SD TRADE plan to make Jeeps, jackets, and jerky just hundreds of miles away in Manderson and Mission?

Economic development on the reservations may be complicated, but Rep. Hickey reminds me that our "best minds" have plumbed all sorts of complexities for past economic development plans. Recall the wildly complicated financing of Northern Beef Packers.

And while we're recalling Northern Beef Packers, let us ask why NBP and other EB-5-backed projects weren't directed toward employing South Dakota's Indian workforce. EB-5 investors get their green cards for half price when they invest in "Targeted Employment Areas"—i.e., rural areas or areas with high unemployment. Every project funded by EB-5 dollars in South Dakota was in a rural area, but none targeted an area of high unemployment.

If EB-5 is wonderful (and Mike Rounds desperately needs us to believe to the exclusion of everything else), imagine how much more wonderful it would be if we combined it with Rep. Hickey's thinking and used it to join workers and jobs on South Dakota's reservations. Traditional markets don't gamble on reservation projects. Directing EB-5 investments toward SD TRADE work centers would fill exactly the capital gap that government intrusion in the economy like EB-5 ought to fill.

We may do better implementing Hickey's SD TRADE plan on its own, without entangling it in the questionable morality and economics of EB-5. But couple SD TRADE with EB-5 financing, and we may have a recipe for tackling the Indian workforce problem that the state and the free market are ignoring.