Yesterday I reviewed the election picks of the participants in the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce Business Caucus. Today, let's look at the media habits and policy leanings revealed by that straw poll.

The Chamber asked Business Caucus participants to name two media they use to follow the Legislative process:

Source Users
Newspaper 58
Television news 31
Public radio and television 26
Internet news sources 66
Blogs and social media 29
Friends—chatting 26

Internet news and newspapers are the top choices. Folks are still tuning in to KELO and KOTA, but blogs and social media are close to both the commercial tubers and public broadcasting (which really does the best legislative coverage in the state with its Statehouse service).

The Webby skew of this group's media preferences may reflect the age groupings. The Business Caucus included 52 GenXers, 42 Millennials, 39 Boomers, and just one really old businessperson.

A quarter of these employers (26 out of 104 responding to this question) said their businesses have policies "about employees' personal websites." I hope these policies do not go beyond reminding employees to keep their business lives separate from their personal online lives. 60% (48 out of 79 responding) say they check social media to screen job applicants (I should apply for more jobs to boost my readership!). But 96% (98 out of 102 responding) said employers should not have the right "to collect passwords from employee's private social media accounts when they aren't under suspicion for a crime." On that issue, the Chamber of Commerce leadership appears to be out of step with its membership: Chamber boss David Owen testified earlier this month against legislation that would have prevented such forcible invasions of job applicants' online privacy.

On transportation issues, only one member out of 127 respondents expressed direct opposition to raising taxes to boost funding for road and bridge repairs. Read that again: in a group of Chamber members, 99% support raising taxes for a practical public purpose. Another 80% (67 out of 84 respondents) support an extra penny sales tax in their cities for local needs.

Asked to name three taxes they would support raising for roads, the gasoline tax, sales/excise tax on cars, and wheel tax were the most popular. Using property tax and a price-based wholesale tax on fuel were the least popular.

Nearly half of the Business Caucus (52 out of 106 responding) support Senator David Novstrup's "youth minimum wage" and admit that they think "young people in first jobs don't have the value of fully adult workers." That's logically and morally wrong.

Chamber members are uneasy about creating a state debt collection office. 50% (43 out of 86 respondents) oppose the concept; the other half are split 29% for a state debt collection office and 21% offering only partial support, saying they can live with "a small state office to track the numbers but use the private sector for heavy lifting." The Daugaard Administration had a heck of a plan that would have garnished wages and seized bank assets to pay off debts owed to the state. The Senate and the private debt collection agencies freaked out and scared the toothless Daugaard regime into tabling that bill and putting its chips on a much weaker bill that now just withholds licenses from deadbeats.

The Business Caucus may not be scientifically representative of the general population of South Dakota businesspeople, but it does represent the voices of those most likely to go to Pierre to participate in the Legislative process.


Wait a minute: now addiction is a workforce issue?

Leaders of Face It Together say support for people with that disease is especially important during the state's current worker shortage. An Aberdeen affiliate plans to open later this year.

...Because addiction can lead to less productivity and even the loss of skilled workers, leaders of Face It Together believe helping those employees is a money-saving investment for businesses, especially when workers are in short supply.

"We need to be able to help them seek recovery and treatment so they can stay in the workforce and stay in the community and be a vital component to our community," [business owner Troy] McQuillen said [Erich Schaffhauser, "Face It Together Expanding to Aberdeen,", 2015.01.22].

What? Helping people overcome addiction is no longer rooted in supporting the intrinsic worth of every human being, but now arises from an instrumental view of people as cogs in the economic machine?

No, Face It Together simply understands its audience and is tuning its pitch to business-minded donors:

Through partnerships with Aberdeen businesses and other donations, the group is hoping to raise $150,000 to start offering services in the Hub City by June.

...The organization is looking to partner with any sector that could benefit from fewer people facing addiction [Schaffhauser, 2015.01.22].

Maybe we can adapt that workforce approach to sell raising money for teacher pay, too. We don't raise teacher pay to recognize the fundamental dignity of teachers and the moral worth of their work. We don't raise teacher pay to show our love for children or our appreciation of the inherent value of knowledge. We raise teacher pay because teachers are instrumental to building our workforce. Arbeit und Wirtschaft über alles!


The headline Friday was "Workforce Dollars Bypass Sioux Falls." Steve Young wrote in that Sioux Falls paper that "Sioux Falls was just handed a big goose egg" by the state Workforce Development Council, which rejected an application from economic development group Forward Sioux Falls to spend $56,433 in state money to give consultants a few days' work sitting around thinking up ideas for workforce development.

But Sioux Falls was not completely snubbed. Among the fourteen Community Incentive Matching Grants recently approved by the state is $50,000 to the Associated General Contractors of South Dakota. The AGC plans to spend $100K total implementing a manufacturing apprenticeship curriculum and deploying three mobile training labs for advanced manufacturing, carpentry, and welding. The AGC will use these labs at middle schools, high schools, job fairs, and even at work sites with apprentices to develop the next generation of workers to replace the workers who are aging out of South Dakota's workforce or heading elsewhere for higher wages.

The full list of partners makes clear this project is meant to serve the Sioux Falls area:

Business (listed alphabetically)

  • Associated General Contractors of South Dakota – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Beck & Hofer Construction – Sioux Falls, SD
  • DeGeest Steel Works – Tea, SD
  • Friessen Construction – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Hjellming Construction – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Home Builders Association of the Sioux Empire – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Journey Group (aka Sioux Falls Construction) – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Raven Industries – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Showplace Wood Products – Harrisburg, SD

Education (listed alphabetically)

  • Mitchell Technical Institute, Architectural Design and Building Construction – Mitchell, SD—Provided tool list for carpentry mobile training lab.
  • Sioux Falls Career and Technical Education Academy – Sioux Falls, SD—Provided tool list for welding fabrication mobile training lab.
  • Southeast Technical Institute – Sioux Falls, SD—Provided input on apprenticeship training model and mobile training lab concept.

Government (listed alphabetically)

  • Department of Labor, Sioux Falls Local Office – Sioux Falls, SD—Participated in several Sioux Empire Workforce Development Coalition meetings and provided input on development of proposal.
  • Sioux Falls Community Development – Sioux Falls, SD—Participated in brainstorming session with AGC and HBASE to draw out and develop workforce development ideas that would benefit Sioux Falls area contractors. Also, provided insight into community collaboration and proposal formation [Associated General Contractors of South Dakota, Community Incentive Matching Program grant application, November 2014].

Sioux Falls boosters should probably tone down any talk of goose eggs and snubs. The AGC and other partners in local business, education, and government just landed the city a fair share of state workforce development dollars with a practical, hands-on plan to train and recruit workers.


Way to go, South Dakota: you just killed Dairy Queen Miracle Treat Day. Or so an attentive listener might worry after listening to DeLon Mork's interview on NPR's All Things Considered yesterday.

South Dakota voted last November to raise the minimum wage from the federal floor of $7.25 to $8.50. That raise took effect Thursday. Mork, Madison Dairy Queen owner and president of the South Dakota Retailers Association*, tells NPR that the minimum-wage increase approved by voters is forcing him to raise everyone's wages at his shop:

DELON MORK: I've got about seven full-time people. And I've got 25 part-time kids ranging from minimum wage up to about $16 an hour.

RATH: Mork says the new law adds to his expenses in other ways. To be fair to his non-minimum wage employees at the Dairy Queen, he'll have to raise wages for everyone.

MORK: I can't narrow that gap from the 16-year-old student that is getting their first job that, quite honestly, doesn't know what end of the broom to hold onto to sweep. I can't compress the wages from that person to my experienced college-age night manager. I can't narrow that gap, so everybody moves up [Arun Rath, "Minimum Wage Increases Across U.S. Affects [sic] Wide Range Of Workers," NPR: All Things Considered, 2015.01.03].

That's Mork, master of sales, at work. We need to make policy by big picture facts, not anecdote. Mork knows that 78.3% of workers making minimum wage in South Dakota are 20 or older. Mork knows that state and federal law allow him to pay teenagers a training wage (the state Department of Labor calls it an "opportunity wage"). He knows that all of his competitors face the same wage hike, so he faces no new competitive force. And he knows that all the other workers around town getting a raise will be able to come buy more food at Dairy Queen. But with his brilliant facility with language (and yes, DeLon is good), he frames the entire debate with that one vivid, humorous image of the dopey kid who's never run a broom. We liberals argue with facts and figures; business conservatives like Mork run with darn good stories.

The man who has organized the most successful Miracle Treat Day fundraiser on the continent for the last eight years then tells us he may have to cut back on his largesse:

RATH: He'll have to cut hours, he says, and think about trimming back on community service, like giveaway specials or sponsoring kids sports teams [Rath, 2015.01.03].

We can read that as simple, straightforward business logic—less profit margin means less to give away—or as a veiled threat to quit going crazy on Miracle Treat Day. Heavens forfend!

I have a hard time imagining Mork, who is both a decent guy and a shrewd businessman, dropping his community service activities and the bountiful good will it buys him without seeking other, less grouchy ways to balance his budget. But if he does scale back Miracle Treat Day or sponsor one less Little League team, he has the perfect public excuse. Every business owner in South Dakota can spend the coming year shifting the blame for every cutback and misfortune onto the voters of South Dakota.

Whatever changes come in the Madison Dairy Queen's community service, Mork is making sure voters see the impact of their decision right now on the menu:

RATH: And, of course, his prices are going up.

MORK: Probably my largest price increase ever. My Blizzards went up 20 cents. $2.99 went to $3.19.

RATH: Those new prices start today.

MORK: I kind of am looking forward to people's reaction when they see the prices are up if they correlate the difference for the prices to the minimum wage increase that they voted on a couple months ago [Rath, 2015.01.03].

Blizzards up 6.7%? 20 cents for one ice cream treat to dignify each worker with a better minimum wage? That seems a small price for each consumer to pay.

But 6.7% is also a larger price than research indicates is necessary to pay for this wage increase. One analysis based on five empirical studies of minimum-wage increases on fast-food restaurants indicated that raising the minimum wage to $10.50 would raise costs at fast-food restaurants just 2.7%, or, on Madison's favorite Blizzard, eight cents. Other researchers found that a 10% increase in the minimum wage translates into a 0.9% increase in the price of burgers at McDonald's. We just raised South Dakota's minimum wage 17.2%; burger prices should thus go up 1.6%.

And while I can't attest to the updated accuracy of these data, lists the average price of a Blizzards in South Dakota at $2.69 for a mini and $3.69 for a small. In Washington State, which raised its minimum wage to a nation-leading $9.32 an hour in 2014 and, the mini Blizzard is $3.15 and the small $4.32. (Washington's index has raised its minimum to $9.47 this year.)

But there I go talking research and statistics again, while that pimply-faced kid who can't tell the business end of a broom is getting a whopping $8.50 an hour.

DeLon Mork is a good businessman and a good guy. He treats his workers and his community right. He'll survive the minimum wage increase, as will Miracle Treat Day and everyone Mork helps.

And in less than a week, he'll turn that kid into a sweeping machine who earns every penny of that minimum wage.

p.s.: DeLon Mork represents Madison in the national media twice in three weeks! Wow! He must be laying the groundwork to run against Jeb Bush. And notice that, unlike sports hit-piecer Nigel Duara, NPR's Arun Rath saw no journalistic need to mention Mork's name or comment on his Midwestern accent (and seriously, what accent?).

*Update 09:48 CST: Mork and his fellow retailers fought passionately against Initiated Measure 18, the ballot measure that raised the minimum wage. Below is the text SDRA posted to its website in opposition to raising the minimum wage:

Initiated Measure 18

In November of 2014, South Dakota voters will decide whether to mandate a 17% increase in the minimum wage, PLUS mandate automatic annual increases.

The South Dakota Retailers Association opposes #18. We are part of a grassroots coalition (representing small business and family farms) which is working to defeat this measure.

Ten Reasons to Vote No on #18

There are many reasons we believe this proposal should be defeated. Here are ten of them:

  1. It would be the single LARGEST minimum wage hike in South Dakota's history.
  2. Will trigger higher prices, lay offs, cuts in hours for workers, reduced employee benefits, and delays in making needed improvements.
  3. Mandates raises tied to the National Consumer Price Index- every year - FOREVER, even if South Dakota's economy is suffering a downturn.
  4. Automatic raises would be set by the economies in New York and California and other states, not by what's happening in South Dakota or the Midwest.
  5. Young and unskilled workers could lose out on jobs, along with the opportunity to gain valuable work experience.
  6. If the starting wage goes up 17%, experienced employees may not get raises they deserve.
  7. Employers who can afford to are already paying more than the minimum wage to attract and keep employees in a competitive market.
  8. South Dakota's minimum wage would be higher than 43 other states as of January 1, 2015.
  9. Hits small towns hardest. When prices have to go up to cover increased operating costs, it drives customers elsewhere.
  10. If this passes, what's next? Do we really want to set employer policies at the ballot box?

Learn more about this issue at

Join the effort to defeat #18 [South Dakota Retailers Association, "Ballot Issue,", 2014, downloaded 2015.01.04].


The new pawn shop payday lending magnate Chuck Brennan talked up in his Christmas card is now in the news. Brennan gets that Sioux Falls paper to promote his new Badlands Pawn, scheduled to open next Thanksgiving.

Brennan tells Jodi Schwan that he plans to spend $15 million to open not just a pawn shop but a 40,000-square-foot entertainment complex across from the new Sanford Premier Center as a response to what seems to be Brennan's gut feeling that plain old capitalism is a drag:

Somewhere [the pawn business] got to the point where it started to become a financial transaction and the showroom started losing its fun and people were just pawning stuff because they needed money, and they weren’t going for the pawnshop experience [Chuck Brennan, quoted in Jodi Schwan, "Entertainment Complex Coming near Events Center," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.25].

Brennan's right: capitalism has no soul!

To make business more fun, the "Largest Pawn shop in the Midwest" will include a gold foundry, a gun shop, a shooting range (free for cops!), its own FM radio station with live DJs simulcasting on 30+ stations, a house band led by Metal Cowboy Ron Keel and auditioning professional players and back-up singers now, a tattoo shop offering free Badlands Pawn ink, and a ticket broker providing all your scalping needs in one convenient location within easy walking distance of Sioux Falls' new concert venue. Brennan promises to fly the largest American flag on the largest flagpole (yes, that's phallic) in South Dakota. Brennan also plans to hire nearly 100 workers.

I don't know if Pawn of America will "restructure the tourism routes in the Midwest," but Brennan's pawn shop does sound like fun. And since Brennan is diversifying his portfolio into entertainment, he'll feel even less pain when we cap interest rates in 2016 and drive him out of the usury business. Everybody wins!


You folks think I go too far in razzing folks in the public eye for their Christmas cards? Check out Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey's take on the Christmas card Dollar Loan Center boss Chuck Brennan is sending:

Rep. Rev. Hickey says the recipient of this card reported that Brennan included $100 with this card. The recipient donated that $100 to South Dakotans for Responsible Lending, the group Rep. Rev. Hickey has formed with Sioux Falls restaurateur Steve Hildebrand to place on the 2016 ballot an initiative to cap interest rates at 36% and put Brennan and other payday lenders out of business.

Brennan shows his true values by featuring on the cover of his Christmas card not his family but a glowing glamour shot of his new house in Newport Beach, California. Zillow lists the May 2014 sale price of this 6,600-square-foot mansion as $9,000,000, with an estimated monthly mortgage payment larger than the annual paychecks of two-thirds of Brennan's customers.

Further tackiness ensues as Brennan mentions that his dog "doesn't really do a whole hell of a lot," language even this secular materialist would never consider using in a Christmas card. Brennan then closes by spending as much time talking up his business ventures as his family... because that's what Christmas is all about: business and the accumulation of material wealth (and, Gaia help us, a TV show about his upcoming pawn shop).

Brennan probably just whipped this Christmas card up himself. For the fight against the interest-rate-cap initiative, the payday loan magnate will surely hire much more skilled message-meisters to persuade South Dakotans not to interfere with Brennan's exploitation of South Dakota's working poor. After all, South Dakotans need those triple-digit-interest loans... and his fourth-grade son needs those summer sailing lessons.


A couple thousand protesters kinked the hose of commerce Saturday by flashmobbing a "Black Lives Matter" protest in the Mall of America. During the protest, St. Paul writer Ira Booker Tweeted this photo:

Framing this giant warning next to the big Christmas tree brilliantly juxtaposes authoritarianism, religion, and commerce. Taking this photo may place Booker in the Mall's suspicious-activity database.

I understand and defend the basic right to private property. Pretty much every store in America is private property. When we're on their turf, our corporate overlords have the right to say, "Ho Ho Ho! Merry Shut Your Mouth and Shop!" If our actions on their property interfere with their normal business operations, they have the right to ask us to leave.

But here's our con-law civil rights brainteaser for the morning: What's the difference between the Mall of America ejecting you for exercising your First Amendment right to speak and assemble and a baker refusing to sell you a cake for exercising your Fourteenth Amendment right to be a citizen while gay or Indian?

In related news, one day after American Indian activists protested police brutality in Rapid City, Rapid City police officer Anthony Meirose shot and killed Lakota man Allen Locke:

Locke, according to [RCPD Captain Dan] Rud, attacked Officer Anthony Meirose when the officer was responding to an “unwanted subject” at 541 Pahasapa Road, Lakota Homes.

Rud said that Locke, armed with a knife, attacked Meirose at the doorway to the home. Meirose then shot Locke several times.

The officer, Rud added, did not have time to use any non-lethal weapon [Jack Siebold, "Police Release Name of Rapid City Man Killed Saturday," Rapid City Journal, 2014.12.21].

Native Lives Matter... but don't plan to march around saying that at the Rushmore Mall.


Todd Epp reports that the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council has ranked South Dakota number one for entrepreneur friendliness. Dakota War College parrots this report without analysis and draws no more discussion from its addled audience than one anonymous meatball who says the report "will surely make Heildeburger's head explode."

Permit me to analyze and spell things correctly.

The SBE Council rankings didn't make my head explode five years ago, when I dismantled their propaganda in a series of four posts:

  1. The SBE Council is another head on the hydra of right-wing organizations created to wage war against liberal democracy and the working class. These rankings are based on a Republican/crony-capitalist ideological wishlist, not analysis of actual business performance. Since my analysis of their 2009 propaganda, the SBE Council has at least changed the name of its index from the "Small Business Survival Index" to the more accurate "Small Business Policy Index."
  2. I found South Dakota businesses performing well below Minnesota and national averages on receipts and payroll.
  3. I found that the SBE Council's anti-tax agenda ignored the results of research showing tax policy doesn't have the impact on entrepreneurship that the council assumes.
  4. I found that investment in public services can be at least as good for business as the SBE Council's preferred anarcho-capitalism.

I stand by all four of those critiques and add two more.

First, in the only whiff of reality-based analysis, SBE Council economist Raymond J. Keating asserts the validity of the Small Business Policy Index by reporting that "when it comes to economic growth, population growth, and shifts in population among the states, for example, the top 25 states on the Index perform, on average, far better than the bottom 25 states.” You can check Keating's numbers in the full report, but order your carts and horses. Population growth itself drives economic growth, and economic growth could draw migration. That model by itself could drive good numbers, while the SBE Council's index sit cheering uselessly on the sidelines for policies that don't figure in the equation.

Second, actual small-business survival rates show the Small Business Policy Index is practically meaningless. The Small Business Administration measured survival rates in 2012 for small firms started two years, five years, and ten years previously. (Yes, I'm comparing Keating's 2014 calculation with SBA's 2012 data. Salt accordingly, and feel free to work up your own chart.) Nationally, 67.7% of small firms lasted two years, 45.5% lasted five years, and 34.4% lasted ten years. The comparable survival rates for South Dakota firms are 72.7%, 55.0%, and 43.9%. We're fourth best on two-year and second best on five and ten. That's pretty good!

But on ten-year survival, Hawaii, which ranks 47th on SBE Council's policy index, comes in 4th for small business survival with 42.3%. Six of the top ten states for ten-year survival are in SBE Council's bottom 25.

Here are the average small business survival rates for the SBE Council's top 25 and bottom 25 states:

2yr 5yr 10yr
SBE top 25 67.4 46.1 35.9
SBE bottom 25 68.2 46.8 35.7

A larger percentage of small businesses fail in their first two years in SBE Council's top 25 states than in the bottom 25. The bottom half see a few more new firms hang on for five years. The tide turns by year ten, when the percentage of small firms surviving in SBE Council's more entrepreneur friendly states finally beats those surviving in the less entrepreneur friendly states... by two tenths of a percentage point.

Scientifically, the numbers Keating cooks up have little to do with real-world outcomes for small businesses. Check the correlations:

correlations 2yr 5yr 10yr
SBEC policy rank 0.1037 0.0966 -0.1034
SBEC policy index 0.0885 0.0733 -0.1470

Remember, when we're talking correlations, we're talking numbers from –1.0 to +1.0. Zero means there is no predictable relationship. +1.0 means a perfect correlation, with one variable rising consistently as the other rises. –1.0 means a perfect negative correlation, with one variable decreasing consistently as the other increases. The closer the numbers get to zero, the less reliable the relationship.

Short form: the correlations you see here, with magnitudes between 0.07 and 0.15, don't amount to a fart in a wind storm. Those negative numbers in the ten-year column suggest that if anything, the policies Keating and the SBE Council like actually predict that small firms are slightly more likely to go under in the long term. The correlations are so small that a good statistician will march in and tell you we can't distinguish these numbers from throwing darts at a spreadsheet (printout, please, not the screen!).

South Dakota's small businesses have better survival rates than the national average, but that performance does not arise from the policy preferences Keating and the SBE Council advocate.

The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council is in the business of propaganda, not real analysis. Their ideological wishlist ranking of states for entrepreneur friendliness tell us nothing about actual business results in each state.

p.s.: You can view the SBE Council ranks and indices alongside the SBA's survival rates on this spreadsheet. Enjoy!


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