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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Deadwood is astir over another old building threatened by development. Optima LLC, which owns Cadillac Jacks and Springhill Suites on the north end of Deadwood, wants to move the Fountain House from its property along Main Street, across from the Days of '76 Museum, down the street about a mile and a half, to just past where Sherman Street bends southwest, near the head of the Mickelson Trail.

This move wouldn't be a big deal if the Fountain House weren't a historic house built in 1890. The Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission is meeting this evening to discuss whether moving the Fountain House to the more southerly location will negatively impact the historic nature of the neighborhood.

The Deadwood Trust for Historic Preservation doesn't think the move is a good idea. They are filing this letter with the DHPC this evening to protest the move. They say the Fountain House should stay put. The Deadwood Trust asks the DHPC to reject Optima's request because a year ago, in its original application to move the house, Optima contended that the building couldn't be used for commercial purposes, but Optima now supports the application for this move by contending that the building can be used for commercial purposes.

A February 2014 letter (included in the Deadwood Trust's communication to the DHPC tonight) from CPA Paul J. Thorstenson to Optima manager Paul Bradsky of Rapid City doesn't say the Fountain House is unusable for commercial purposes. CPA Thorstenson says says that the best commercial use for the Fountain property is a parking lot and that getting a return on investment from using the house in its current location would require charging renters three times the fair market value. If my impression of town serves me properly, parking isn't nearly as tight at the south end of Sherman, away from the big Main Street casinos.

But the Deadwood Trust still has a case to make. The entire city of Deadwood is a National Historic Landmark. Every building Deadwood lets deteriorate into uselessness, every building the casinos knock down for parking, takes away history and leaves Deadwood a little less unique and little more like every place else.

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Arizona/South Dakota billionaire T. Denny Sanford is using $25 million of his usury-gotten fortune to keep South Dakota state government from coming up with more of its own money to address workforce development. How very nice.

I suppose it's impolite to pester an elderly benefactor about the literal content of statements made in a fit of boosterism. But permit me to look at a few words from the gift horse's mouth, uttered yesterday at the rollout of the new Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship plan:

"I'm proud of everything that South Dakota stands for," Sanford said. "Productivity, a great health system and South Dakota Works. And it works in a good way. Not only do people work harder and have a better work ethic, but the system works. We've got a system unequal to anything else I've seen. We've got to get the people here to do it."

..."Go forward, South Dakota; let's get it done," Sanford said. "I know you will because everything we do here works" [Jodi Schwan, "Sanford, State Pledge $50 Million for Workforce Needs," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.17].

Everything we do here works... that statement makes it hard to explain why we need this scholarship program in the first place. What happened to the New South Dakotans program that was Governor Daugaard's first big swing at workforce recruitment? Oh yeah: it didn't work. And if everything we have here works, why do we have a teacher shortage? And a road-repair shortage?

But we South Dakotans still work harder than everyone else, right? We have a better work ethic, right?

  1. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 2010 says that in 2008, South Dakota ranked 47th for average weekly hours and 51st for average hourly earnings in private industry.
  2. From 1977 to 2000, 25 states had higher annual labor-productivity growth than South Dakota. Our labor-productivity growth improved from 2000 to 2004, thanks to our riding out the 2001 recession a little better than the rest of the country, but 13 states still beat us on that metric in that period.
  3. This is a crude figure, but if you divide our gross state product by our population in 2013, you find that South Dakota ranks 22nd for economic output per person (see full chart below). However hard they are working, folks in 21 other states are generating more wealth per person than South Dakotans. The only neighboring state producing less wealth per person is Montana, which ranks 42nd in GSP per capita.
  4. Working harder isn't exactly a sign of progress. How hard do you think Mr. Sanford is working right now? American workers put in more hours than their European counterparts but report less life satisfaction.

I suppose the state's official position should be that Denny Sanford can say the sky is blue and Elvis is President, as long as he keeps the money coming. Denny Sanford can build our hospitals and schools and workforce... but let's not let him fabricate our facts.

State 2013 GSP $ Millions Population (2013) GSP/pop GSP/pop rank
Alabama 180,727 4,833,722 $37,388.79 47
Alaska 51,542 735,132 $70,112.58 2
Arizona 261,924 6,626,624 $39,526.01 41
Arkansas 115,745 2,959,373 $39,111.33 43
California 2,050,693 38,332,521 $53,497.47 13
Colorado 273,721 5,268,367 $51,955.57 18
Connecticut 233,996 3,596,080 $65,069.74 5
Delaware 58,028 925,749 $62,682.22 7
District of Columbia 105,465 646,449 $163,145.12 1
Florida 750,511 19,552,860 $38,383.69 46
Georgia 424,606 9,992,167 $42,493.89 37
Hawaii 70,110 1,404,054 $49,933.98 20
Idaho 57,029 1,612,136 $35,374.81 50
Illinois 671,407 12,882,135 $52,119.23 17
Indiana 294,212 6,570,902 $44,774.98 31
Iowa 150,512 3,090,416 $48,702.83 21
Kansas 132,153 2,893,957 $45,665.16 28
Kentucky 170,667 4,395,295 $38,829.48 44
Louisiana 222,008 4,625,470 $47,996.85 24
Maine 51,163 1,328,302 $38,517.60 45
Maryland 322,234 5,928,814 $54,350.50 11
Massachusetts 420,748 6,692,824 $62,865.54 6
Michigan 408,218 9,895,622 $41,252.38 39
Minnesota 289,125 5,420,380 $53,340.36 14
Mississippi 96,979 2,991,207 $32,421.36 51
Missouri 258,135 6,044,171 $42,708.09 35
Montana 39,846 1,015,165 $39,250.76 42
Nebraska 98,250 1,868,516 $52,581.83 15
Nevada 123,903 2,790,136 $44,407.51 33
New Hampshire 64,118 1,323,459 $48,447.29 23
New Jersey 509,067 8,899,339 $57,202.79 9
New Mexico 84,310 2,085,287 $40,430.89 40
New York 1,226,619 19,651,127 $62,419.78 8
North Carolina 439,672 9,848,060 $44,645.54 32
North Dakota 49,772 723,393 $68,803.54 3
Ohio 526,196 11,570,808 $45,476.17 29
Oklahoma 164,303 3,850,568 $42,669.81 36
Oregon 211,241 3,930,065 $53,750.00 12
Pennsylvania 603,872 12,773,801 $47,274.26 26
Rhode Island 49,962 1,051,511 $47,514.48 25
South Carolina 172,176 4,774,839 $36,059.02 49
South Dakota 41,142 844,877 $48,695.85 22
Tennessee 269,602 6,495,978 $41,502.91 38
Texas 1,387,598 26,448,193 $52,464.76 16
Utah 131,017 2,900,872 $45,164.70 30
Vermont 27,723 626,630 $44,241.42 34
Virginia 426,423 8,260,405 $51,622.53 19
Washington 381,017 6,971,406 $54,654.25 10
West Virginia 68,541 1,854,304 $36,963.19 48
Wisconsin 264,126 5,742,713 $45,993.24 27
Wyoming 39,538 582,658 $67,857.99 4
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My friend Frank Kloucek notes that neighbors in Tyndall and Yankton have a chance today to get educated about tax-based incentives. Kloucek sends a press release noting that Iowa State University economist David Swenson will speak today on "The Rationale, Rewards, and Risks of Using Property Tax-Based Tax Incentives in Rural Areas." Swenson presents twice today:

Tyndall Community Center, right next to the Eiffel Tower (?)

Tyndall Community Center, right next to the Eiffel Tower (?)

Kloucek says the topic is particularly relevant to the thirty-million-dollar rail facility that Cargill/Agrex Dakota Plains Ag Center is building west of Tabor. That project is getting tax increment financing (Bon Homme County Commissioner John Pesak greeted the project by saying, "We're just going to have to have a TIF"), plus getting the county and state to shoulder the majority of the cost of rebuilding the rail to the Napa junction near Yankton.

Swenson's research has found that TIFs are not clearly associated with economic growth or expanding tax bases, particularly in smaller communities. In his 2012 summary of his Iowa research, Swenson says public subsidization of private development has become "inefficient, imprecise, and inevitable." TIFs, says Swenson, have become an entitlement program for business.

Swenson makes the news elsewhere casting doubt on the job projections and other wishful economic thinking of the Dakota Access Bakken oil pipeline that will cut across East River and Iowa and whose corporate fathers have apparently used the same deceptive "job-year" statistics as Keystone XL backers.

Come ask Swenson your economic development questions this afternoon in Yankton and this evening in Tyndall.

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The Nee York Times turns some socioeconomic statistics into a map of the quality of life in every county in the United States. Looking at "education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity," the Times calculates that much of South Dakota is in the top quarter of the nation's 3,135 counties. Lincoln County actually ranks 8th nationwide (if NYT included the impact of being Todd Epp's neighbor, Lincoln County would've made the top five).

Alas, the big islands of orange trouble amidst South Dakota's healthy blue on the NYT map are Indian Country. Shannon/Oglala Lakota County is not the worst in the nation, but it's down there, ranking 3,080 out of 3,135. That's still better than the ten worst counties by this measure, six of which are in eastern Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains and all ten of which are in the South.

But Oglala Lakota County likely would have come out worse with a closer look at unemployment. NYT says unemployment on Pine Ridge is 13.7%. Some would argue that 13.7% is closer to the employment rate, not the jobless rate, on Pine Ridge.

Whatever the actual numbers, the gross disparity between economic metrics in Indian Country and the rest of South Dakota should call the Legislature to action. Instead of fussing about who wrote which parts of science curriculum standards, legislators (especially those from districts with large Indian communities) should focus their attention on the number-one economic development problem in South Dakota: providing infrastructure, jobs, and better quality of life on Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, and the rest of our Indian reservations.

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In somewhat better local economic news, Madison's movie theater is reopening next week. Owner Todd Frager shut the West Twin Theater down at the beginning of October to give the place its first real renovation since it opened back in the late 1970s. The main upgrade is to digital projection equipment, but we can hope the renovation has also upgraded the movie house itself, which over four decades had declined to an embarrassing state of disrepair.

Alas, the rechristened Madison Theatre loses the distinction of being a two-screen cineplex. Evidently we're down to a one-screen house... which is fine, because really, how many good movies are out there?Update 2014.11.13 09:32 CST: Mistake on my part! Cinema manager Carol Frager calls me today after hearing some confused stories about this blog post at the Community Center and tells me that her son Todd Frager has not gutted the interior and consolidated screens. The newly rechristened Madison Theatre still has two screens! But during this first reinaugural week, the Madison Theatre will show just one film.

The cinema grandly reopens with a special early showing of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 on Thursday, November 20, at 8 p.m. (for seven bucks!).

Note that this community cultural preservation is brought to you by government intervention, in the form of an economic development loan coordinated by the Lake Area Improvement Corporation. LAIC director Julie Gross says the theater renovation "coincides with the mission of the Madison Downtown and Beyond taskforce, which is committed to enhancing the vitality of the Madison area." Emphasis on Beyond, of course, since the Madison Theatre is located one mile west of downtown, at the back of a gravel parking lot, along a state highway with no sidewalks where kids can ride their bicycles.

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