House Bill 1201, which Dakota Rural Action has deemed the worst of the CAFO bills in this year's Legislative Session, heads to Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources this morning at 10:00. HB 1201, the only bill on the committee's agenda, would make it harder for citizens concerned about stink, water contamination, and other damage caused by big livestock feedlots to block such harmful ag-industrial developments in their neighborhoods.

Dakota Rural Action's excellent legislative blog notes that the state, which views farming as nothing but economic development, not land stewardship or community building, goes to great lengths to promote big CAFOs. This post from Meghan Thoreau describes the state's County Site Analysis Program and its focus on Big Ag:

The Program has been under development for the past several years and involves several key players, such as the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, First District Association of Local government, Planning and Development District III, Turner County Landowner Value Added Finance Authority Board Member and a few others. As it stands today the program is attempting to grow AG related industries through pre-qualifying sites for Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or Agriculturally Related Industrial Development (ARID), such as ethanol plants, cheese plants, granaries, and agricultural manufactures alike. The current methodology and analysis applied is very landowner and CAFO-ARID-operator centric, involving the landowners of pre-qualifying sites and operators of CAFO and ARID industries, with no great effort to secure public participation in the selection of sites, nor communities’ or the environment’s interests. (The only environmental factor taken into account is the area within the protected aquifer zone.) [Meghan Thoreau, "South Dakota's County Site Analysis Program," Dakota Rural Action legislative blog, 2015.02.25]

The County Site Analysis Program isn't about helping counties identify good locations for community gardens, farmers markets, or other small-scale agricultural projects that would promote sustainability and local self-sufficiency. The state wants factory farms. The County Site Analysis Program flags land for such development, and now House Bill 1201 seeks to weaken the review process that allows citizens to weigh the pros and cons of dedicating their land and water to meat and milk factories.

The state already gives factory farms numerous advantages. Let's not take away the few remaining advantages citizens have to protect their counties from over-industrialization. Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources, vote no today on HB 1201.

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Mr. Kurtz alerts us that our Lakota people may translate their dissatisfaction over Rapid City's response to an alleged racist attack on 57 American Horse School kids at a Rush hockey game in January into boycotts. An anonymous source tells the press the Oglala Sioux Tribe may be asking tribal schools not to hold events in Rapid City. That boycott would include the Lakota Nation Invitational, a massive athletic, academic, and arts event that brings $5 million to $6 million to Rapid City's economy. The Oglala Sioux Tribe will press an LNI boycott if tournament organizers don't move LNI to another city.

Comparing the proposed LNI boycott to the 1955–1956 Montgomery bus boycott may be instructive. The Montgomery bus boycott worked because it exerted economic pressure directly on the entity exercising discrimination, the public transit system that segregated buses. It was tolerable to the city's black residents because boycott organizers were able to organize viable alternatives to the boycotted service. Even this effective boycott ended not because the city relented but because the Supreme Court ruled that segregating buses was unconstitutional.

Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker says an LNI boycott would unfairly target Rapid City for a crime perpetrated by one guy from out of town. Indians could boycott Philip, the hometown of the man charged with throwing beer at the American Horse School kids, but who from Pine Ridge ever shops in Philip?

Boycotting LNI and other events in Rapid City does not directly target the police or the state's attorney responsible for the criminal charge that Indians perceive as insufficient. The indirect pressure on city and county officials may not outweigh the direct negative impacts on kids and families denied an opportunity to enjoy big events in Rapid City.

Boycotting communities will need to offer alternative venues and events. Moving LNI this year would be tough; it's not until December, but the contracts are already signed, and finding another West River town with enough lodging and contest space not already booked may be impossible. Alternative events may have to be part of a long-term strategy: Pine Ridge leaders may have to look at investing in larger event facilities, hotels, and restaurants that could handle LNI for one week, but making such facilities financially viable would require a broader marketing strategy that would bring other big events to town throughout the year. Turning Pine Ridge into a tournament/conference/tourism destination would be great for tribal economic self-sufficiency, but it would require far more sustained planning, investment, and collaboration than simply telling people not to go to Rapid City.

Boycotting Rapid City may register anger, but it won't convict Trace O'Connell of any stiffer charges. A boycott may comfort racists in Rapid City—Ah, fewer Indians stinking up our town! The goal can't simply be to reinforce segregation and let Whitopia stand. The goal must be to engage all parties—including us white folks—in making Rapid City a place where everyone is welcome.

p.s.: Speaking of white folks, where is the state's Tribal Relations Office? One would think that the state would take a keen interest in mediating the most prominent current white-tribal dispute in the state. But last week, the Tribal Relations Office's priority was flacking for the Department of Agribusiness and promoting CAFOs on the rez.

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South Dakota chickens are apparently slacking off. About 2.63 million chickens laid 752 million eggs in South Dakota last year, but according to the USDA, that's a 4% drop laying chickens and an 8% drop in egg production.

Sonstegard Foods would single-handedly triple the number of laying chickens in our fair state with their proposed six-million-beak egg factory near Parker. Opponents are suing Turner County over allegedly improper zoning actions that would allow Sonstegard Foods to plunk those chickens and all their emissions less than three miles from town, not to mention within noseshot of nice folks who enjoy peaceful country living.

Sonstegard Foods says we won't notice the stink when they bring 150 jobs to Parker (maybe ten years from now). Jobs, mind you—not careers, not opportunities for independent farmers and landowners to captain their own destinies, just jobs... or maybe serfdom:

Chicken farmers are usually contractors for big companies. Most of them don’t even own the chickens they raise.

The chicken industry, like much of the meat industry, is what’s called “vertically integrated.” That means the company controls or owns almost every step of the production process, and competition between entities is minimal.

Companies usually own the breed of bird, and the hatchery where chicks are born. Same with the chickens they deliver to the farmer, the mills that make the feed farmers use, the slaughterhouse – and often even the trucking lines that deliver the meat to market.

Usually, the only thing they don’t own is the farm where the chickens are grown — the riskiest, lowest-yielding stage of the production line. The farmer has little control over what chicks he’s given, and little say in how they are raised. Some compare contract chicken farmers to sharecroppers.

[Says ag policy professor Robert Taylor,] “The farmer, if push comes to shove, is nothing more than an indentured servant or a serf, because the farmer is completely at the mercy of whatever the company decides to do" [Mariana van Zellar, "Cock Fight," Fusion, February 2015].

Farm entrepreneurs won't flock to Turner County for that kind of chicken feed. Like Beadle and Brown counties, Turner County will likely have to turn to an immigrant workforce that just happens to be easier to indenture.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for the economic and cultural growth immigration brings to South Dakota. But are we really improving our quality of life by promoting businesses that offer literally crappy jobs that most South Dakotans don't want to do?

* * *

We're really a food manufacturer that happens to have chickens on site.

—Peter Sonstegard, VP of sales, Sonstegard Foods, quoted in John Hult, "6M Chickens Could Come to Roost in Turner County," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.01.27

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¡Es necesario enseñar inglés! Aberdeen Development Corporation CEO Mike Bockorny (left) addresses Commissioner Tom Fischbach (right) and other members of the Brown County Commission, Aberdeen, SD, February 24, 2015.

¡Es necesario enseñar inglés! Aberdeen Development Corporation CEO Mike Bockorny (left) addresses Commissioner Tom Fischbach (right) and other members of the Brown County Commission, Aberdeen, SD, February 24, 2015.

Aberdeen Development Corporation CEO Mike Bockorny briefed the Brown County Commission this morning on his organization's current aims. Bockorny, who took the ADC reins last August. Bockorny upheld the conventional wisdom that they greatest obstacle to economic development in South Dakota is a shortage of workers. Bockorny said that while South Dakota's business climate remains much more attractive than the business climate on either Coast, if a business swoops in with an offer to move to Aberdeen and asks ADC to help them find 200 to 400 workers, "that would be a challenge."

The South Dakota Department of Labor puts Brown County's unemployment at 2.9%, meaning 640 workers out of a workforce of 21,675. I agree that the chances that the skills of one to two thirds of those waiting workers aligning with the needs of a single big employer are slim.

Bockorny told the Brown County Commission that he and his brand-spankin' new workforce development coordinator Kati Bachmeyer are working on targeting certain markets for recuriting new workers and integrating newcomers and refugees in the community.

When Commissioner Rachel Kippley asked what areas ADC is targeting for those new recruits, Bockorny said we pretty much have to look to foreign immigrants, to "folks that don't look like the majority of us." Bockorny said Aberdeen currently has 250-some Somali, Karen, and Latino workers, mostly toiling away in the industrial park. Bockorny said the ADC has "acquired contacts" with certain relocating groups who could bring immigrant workers to fill the needs that we can't on our own.

Bockorny said that Aberdeen and Brown County will need to support the integration of these foreign workers. An essential part of that integration will be the English as a second language program at Northern State University. The need for language skills means we're going to need teachers to help these immigrants make themselves at home in South Dakota...

...which leads us to the payoff for this story: Teachers are essential to South Dakota's economic development. If we don't recruit good teachers with good wages, our new immigrant workers won't be able to learn English and integrate into our communities, and we won't be able to keep the workers we need to grow.

Economic development starts with teachers. English teachers.

Tangentially Related Reading:

  • Economist Mark Thoma says affordable higher education is the best investment the United States could make right now.
  • Former Kansas City mayor, now Governing publisher Mark Funkhouser says local governments should create higher education relations officers to promote the mutual interests of town and gown.
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Blogger John Tsitrian posted a complaint Monday calling out Azarga (formerly Powertech) for lying to investors in its public statements about the progress of its plans to mine uranium in the southern Black Hills. Tsitrian's Black Hills neighbor Juli Ames-Curtis issues her own complaint about South Dakotans' easy surrender of valuable resources to foreign corporations:

I am saddened over some of the sentiment in South Dakota regarding the mining of uranium at the Dewey-Burdock site near Edgemont. Some South Dakota citizens, despite being fiercely independent, seem willing to sell out to a foreign company. Azarga Uranium, formerly known as Powertech Uranium, is a Canadian company whose major shareholder and continued source of funding is a Chinese investment fund.

Azarga/Powertech is seeking South Dakota permits for 12.96 million gallons of water per day indefinitely. In 2012 Rapid City used 11.35 million gallons per day. The (foreign) company is applying for water rights for which they will not pay. If Azarga/Powertech were to buy the water from, say, Rapid City, it would have to pay over $1 million for the amount it seeks to use.

Our American water is very precious, especially the Madison and Inyan Kara aquifers in question here. How patriotic is it to trade our water in perpetuity for a handful of short term jobs? [Juli Ames-Curtis, letter to the editor, Custer, South Dakota, 2015.02.19]

For decades, South Dakota has traded its water and other resources for promises of economic development. Yet we seem as mired as ever in the problems of low wages, labor shortages, youth flight, and lack of revenues for schools and roads.

Just as Azarga exaggerates to its investors, we seem to exaggerate to ourselves the benefits of throwing our doors wide for outside corporations to exploit our water and land and weak regulatory and taxation systems. The corporations get the payoffs, and we get something less than prosperity.

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The Mitchell school district and the Wagner economic development corporation are heading opposite directions with the workforce development grants they recently won from the state.

The Mitchell school district has gotten a number of area school districts—Ethan, Hanson, Mount Vernon, Parkston, Plankinton, and Tripp—to the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy for vo-tech classes instead of trying to fund their own teachers and programs. Mitchell and its partner schools in this endeavor will use state money to cover the cost of busing high school students to Mitchell for classes. Four routes covering a total of 240 miles each day for 88 school days will run $38,444.

Preferring to bring the mountain to Mohamed, Wagner Area Growth will use $44,478 (costs split between state grant and local effort) to bring two instructors to town from Mitchell Technical Institute to conduct three five-day welding courses and two three-day CDL/truck-driving courses. These courses will target If these pilot programs work, WAG says it will expand the program to meet other local workforce needs.

Note that in both cases, we could save participants (students headed to Mitchel, instructors headed to Wagner) a lot of time by delivering these courses online. But when we're talking welding and driving, there's only so much a webcam and a chat box can get across.

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You know that argument South Dakota Republicans like to make that South Dakota's purportedly low cost of living makes up for South Dakota's low wages?

That argument is working for workers, says the Aberdeen Development Corporation, discussing the problem of recruiting workers in northeastern South Dakota (NESD):

Compounding this challenge is the difficulty we face retaining future stakeholders in our community who are graduating from our colleges and regional technical schools. A large portion of these individuals have the desire to stay in NESD, but are not finding competitive salaries for knowledge-based jobs available in NESD. Therefore, they leave for higher paying jobs in larger cities in other states, regardless of the cost-of-living increase they may encounter. Even those who may be unskilled leave NESD for higher paying manufacturing jobs in other states due to higher wages, but also because of the opportunities available to them including free/less costly education or additional technical training to advance their careers. Once they have left and settled into careers in other states, it becomes quite difficult to recruit them back to South Dakota [Aberdeen Development Corporation, Community Incentives Matching Program application, November 2014].

The state is granting the Aberdeen Development Corporation $60,000 to work on research, marketing, recruitment, newcomer integration, vo-tech classes, and graduate retention. Not included in the grant proposal: an initiative to promote higher wages.

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Sixteen groups applied last November for workforce development grants from the South Dakota Workforce Initiative. The Workforce Development Council rejected just two of those applications: Madison's and Sioux Falls's.

I'm willing to bet that the council rejected Madison's just because it was Darin Namken pitching new online banners with slogans and logos as underwhelming as the old ones his people came up with. Madison's application was just pork to pay Namken's people $5,000 to fiddle with search engines and post vacuous comments to social media. The application says Madison has a housing shortage, a problem the proposed marketing program does nothing to fix, but then goes on to say that Madison already has successful programs in place to recruit workers. I skim the application and see no compelling case to hand Namken's company more free public dollars.

Madison's plan was weak, but at least they offered a plan. Sioux Falls got rejected, apparently because they wanted state money to pay for thinking about a plan. Forward Sioux Falls applied for $56,433 to pay a third of the cost for having consultants help them develop a workforce development plan. (What? People can get paid six figures just for sitting around helping people think? I do that job in the classroom all the time, and I never get six figures for a gig! I need to rebrand: I'm not a teacher; I'm a brainforce development consultant.)

And let's get real: Sioux Falls needs the least assistance developing its workforce. Almost every other town in this state loses workers to Sioux Falls, because Sioux Falls, in the South Dakota scheme of things, has almost everything. Their application and their own woe-is-us reaction to the state's rejection in today's paper state that Sioux Falls has growing and diverse industries. Its population is growing at nearly twice the state rate. The city offers more opportunities, more people, and more money. In an environment like that, the workforce pretty much develops itself.

The proper role of government is to help along those worthy projects that aren't happening on their own. Madison already has the tools it needs to Tweet job openings. Sioux Falls already has the economic and cultural attraction to build its workforce. The state can justify focusing its meager workforce development resources elsewhere.

You can peruse the fourteen winning applications here and see how Aberdeen, DeSmet, the Associated General contractors, and eleven other organizations snagged their pieces of government pie.

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