¡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 recruiting 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:

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It's –7°F in Huron this morning. Who'd give up tropical sunshine for weather like that?

Political refugees from Burma/Myanmar, that's who. The Karen people are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia. About 50,000 have come to America to escape political oppression and forced labor at the hands of the Burmese military dictatorship.

About 1,600 to 1,800* of those Karen refugees have settled in Huron. The BBC mobile bureau offers this video snapshot of the Karen workers at Dakota Provisions in Huron:

According to BBC's Anna Bressanin's report, Karen immigrants make up 61% of the workforce at Dakota Provisions and 9% of the workforce in Beadle County. (In November 2014, there were 9,495 jobs in Beadle County; 9% of that is 855.) That majority-Karen workforce kills and processes 21,000 turkeys a day. About 500 of their kids attend Huron public schools.

Bressanin's report is snapshot, not in-depth report. She finds one grouchy neighbor, Larry Benston, who complains that the Karen living next door (both sides!) don't communicate at all with him and his fellow Anglo retiree-neighbors. One house has over twenty people living in it, and Benston says they killed a hog in their back yard.

Whether you're proud of South Dakota as a beacon of freedom and $12/hour employment for political refugees or are annoyed that your town is less Anglo than it used to be, remember: the Karen influx is brought to you by the EB-5 visa investment program, the economic development initiative that was pivotal in keeping Jeff Sveen's turkey plant running.

Seven below—nice day to be inside a nice warm turkey plant.

*Update 2015.01.24 10:07 CST: The Greater Huron Development Corporation, in its November 2014 application for a state Community Incentives Matching Program Grant, says the local Karen population is about 2,500.

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The obvious solution to South Dakota's vo-tech workforce shortage is higher wages. But if our business and political leaders are committed to ignoring that option, perhaps we can consider another solution: immigrants.

The Pew Charitable Trusts just issued a report on "Changing Patterns in U.S. Immigration and Population." It includes this map of counties where the population of U.S.-born residents has declined over the last couple decades:

Native-Born Population Declines in Middle America, 1990-2012. Source: Pew Charitable Trusts, "Changing Patterns in U.S. Immigration and Population," 2014.12.18

(click to embiggen!)

See that big blue band down the middle of the country? Those are counties where there are fewer natives born Americans. More of East River is emptying out than West River.

A lot of counties in that band of demographic blues are countering that population loss with immigrants:

"Immigration Slows Population Declines in Middle America"—Source: Pew Charitable Trusts, "Changing Patterns in U.S. Immigration and Population," 2014.12.18

(click to embiggen!)

The dark green counties saw foreign immigration growth outpace the native population loss. The lighter green counties saw foreign immigration slow their shrinkage. Notice that green starts to peter out around the Dakotas.

South Dakotans, like all Americans, are getting older and having fewer babies. The Pew report says immigration is key to filling the workforce:

In addition to having the potential to offset population decline in some areas of the country, immigrants can also compensate for the aging of the native-born population. The median age of the total U.S. population is rising, and the ratio of seniors (ages 65+) to working age people (ages 25-64) is increasing. Immigration mitigates these trends by adding working age adults to the U.S. population. Nearly half of immigrants admitted between 2003 and 2012 were between the ages of 20 and 40, while only 5 percent were ages 65 or older.

The size and makeup of the U.S. population has important implications for economic productivity, taxation, and spending. Immigrants are already disproportionately represented in the labor force with a share of about 16 percent, while they make up about 13 percent of the overall population. The Pew Research Center has determined that if current immigration trends and birth rates continue, by 2050 virtually all (93 percent) of the nation’s working age population growth will come from immigrants and their U.S.-born children [Pew Charitable Trusts, "Changing Patterns in U.S. Immigration and Population: Immigrants Slow Population Decline in Many Counties," December 2014].

South Dakota has shown its willingness to use immigration as an economic development tool in the past. The state appears to recognize at least part of the immigration–economics equation in its new Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship program:

But with high school graduation classes declining, South Dakota also must lure more people here from other states. Build Dakota understands that, its designers say. Out-of-staters entering one of South Dakota’s four technical schools will be able to apply for full scholarships, too, as long as they commit to working at least three years in the state after they graduate [Steve Young, "Build Dakota Offers Promise for Workforce Growth," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.19].

But notice the limits there: we're thinking about students from other states, not workers from other countries. We're targeting youth who will in a couple years turn into technicians who will work for three years with entry-level skills at entry-level wages. Where's the component of our economic development plan that targets experienced workers, foreign and domestic, who could come to South Dakota and add value right now with better skills and bigger families?

Our workforce shortage is not magic. South Dakota has more retirees, fewer workers, and fewer kids stepping in to replace them. Our workforce recruitment efforts need to do more to ride the immigration wave that is boosting other parts of Middle America.

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Texas Senator Ted Cruz, like South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, continues to build his radical conservative brand for the next election by wasting the people's time by futilely bashing the President. During the Senate debate on the stopgap spending bill this weekend, Senator Cruz raised a point of order to declare President Obama's perfectly constitutional actions on immigration unconstitutional. “If you believe President Obama’s executive order was unconstitutional vote yes,” Senator Cruz challenged his colleagues Saturday. “If you think the president’s executive order is constitutional vote no.”

Note to Cruz: President Obama's actions to prioritize enforcement of immigration rules include no executive order.

Whether his colleagues frown on Senator Cruz's terminological error, consider the President's action constitutional, or just think Cruz is a dork, the point was not well taken. The Senate rejected Cruz's parliamentary maneuver 22–74.

Our Senator Tim Johnson voted nay, with all Democrats but Senator Dianne Feinstein, who did not vote. Senator John Thune voted aye among a pretty evenly split and cranky GOP caucus.

Senator Thune did not use the word unconstitutional in his initial response to President Obama's November 20 announcement that he would act where Congress has failed on immigration. But Senator Thune's vote seems to embrace the charge that the President is acting unconstitutionally and signals that South Dakota's Senator wants the home folks to see him as closer to the Cruz wing of his party.

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Attorney General Marty Jackley could be interrogating, arresting, and suing Joop Bollen. He could be arresting Chad Haber for hiding his campaign finance reports for six weeks and counting.

Instead, AG Jackley is wasting his time on another anti-Obama court charade that will serve no interest beyond inflating Jackley's rep among the Republican base in 2018. AG Jackley yesterday announced that he has signed our state onto a lawsuit with 16 other states to challenge President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration policy.

Jackley claims this suit is about the rule of law, even while lawbreaking EB-5 czar Joop Bollen walks free. Jackley claims this suit is about Presidential power, even though the President's directives are entirely Constitutional. Jackley claims this suit is about saving law enforcement, healthcare, and education resources, even though he is throwing away valuable South Dakota law enforcement resources on this lawsuit when he could be focusing on more pressing problems in South Dakota, even though his party's opposition to the Affordable Care Act has denied citizens of this state hundreds of millions of Medicaid dollars, and even though his Governor has just issued a visionless budget that continues decades of Republican neglect of education resources.

Jackley and his friends will also lose this suit, just as they lost most of the arguments Jackley endorsed in the anti-ACA lawsuit. The complaint itself claims that the President has "unilaterally suspend[ed] the immigration laws as applied to 4 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States." But Congress has already effectively suspended those laws by not providing the Executive Branch sufficient resources to capture, prosecute, and deport all of the violators of those immigration laws. Throw out these executive actions, and the President will still be bound by Congress's constraints to inadequately enforce these laws. Absent the actions the President announced on November 20, we get worse outcomes, as we expend limited law enforcement resources more randomly and less efficiently instead of focusing efforts on the most dangerous criminals among illegal immigrants. The court cannot provide the litigants the relief their lawsuit seeks. The lawsuit should therefore be moot.

The complaint wastes valuable argumentation space quoting the President's public statements as if they were binding pronouncements on law. They are not. The complaint lists past Obama Administration immigration policies and alleges impacts therefrom as if they bear on the assessment of the Constitutionality of the President's actions. They do not.

Attorney General Jackley may as well be prosecuting local cops for not ticketing every speeder or staking out every bar on Friday night. Golly, that's a public official changing the law by not enforcing it in every instance, right? Where are the cries of tyranny there?

Attorney General Jackley will continue to use his office to waste the courts' time and our money. President Obama will continue to solve problems, with or without the cooperation of Republicans like Marty who care more about scoring partisan points than seeking real justice.

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Agricultural industry groups complain that President Barack Obama's immigration action won't help them find the workers they need to bring home the bacon. In a brilliant display of rationalization, Hurley hog farmer Steve Schmiechel says the President's inaction and the free market will force him to break the law to stay in business:

Steve Schmeichel, a Hurley, S.D., pig farmer, said he hasn’t hired undocumented immigrants to work on his operation, but the growing labor shortage and ongoing challenge to find employees willing to work means he’ll probably need to soon. Schmeichel said farmers he knows who have hired undocumented immigrants describe them as reliable and willing to work.

“It’s difficult for us or anybody else to find people who are willing to work and do the job and not be afraid to get dirty to get it done,” Schmeichel said. “It’s something that we’re almost going to have to do. It’s our next step” [Christopher Doering and Bill Theobald, "Ag Largely Left Out of Immigration Plan," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.21].

I guess South Dakota's hog farmers and dairy farmers are in the same situation as illegal immigrants. We flooded the Mexican market with subsidized American farm products, crushing the Mexican farm economy. Wal-Mart, sweatshops, and other fruits of NAFTA made things worse for Mexican workers. Mexican workers couldn't wait for the United States Congress or the President to expand and expedite H-2A visas. They couldn't wait to save up half a million dollars to buy an EB-5 visa. To feed their families, those Mexican workers needed to cross the border illegally. They had to. It was their next logical, justifiable, sayable-in-the-paper step, right, Steve?

Schmeichel and the rest of Big Ag just don't want to pay the wages that the local market would bear. They don't want President Obama or Congress to do anything, because that would take away their pool of cheap, exploitable labor:

Sanjay Rawal is the director of Food Chains, a documentary about farmworkers in the United States, which is released in theaters today. I got to chat with him about whether Obama’s failure to address farmworkers in his immigration reform is actually a significant setback.

“Obama is not addressing the needs of agricultural workers in this country,” he agrees. “The reason why the agricultural lobby did not push for farmworkers to be included – and in essence actually fought against it – was because they said that if farmworkers get a pathway to citizenship, they will no longer work in the fields, and [farms] will lose that labor force” [Eve Andrews, "Obama's Immigration Order Won't Help Farmworkers. What Can?" Grist, 2014.11.21].

But wait! We can still get Schmeichel off the hook. Don't blame farmers for the exploitation of migrant labor; blame Safeway and Hy-Vee:

The thesis of Food Chains, essentially, is that the exploitation of migrant farmworkers is a direct result of supermarket monopsony. In short, huge supermarket chains have maintained prices at artificially low levels as the cost of producing fruits and vegetables — in terms of land and equipment — has increased. To survive, farmers have no choice but to hire very, very cheap labor.

“Over and over, we kept hearing that the problem was farmers, the problems were labor contractors, but it seemed like the issues were much more systemic,” Rawal tells me. “And when we started following the coalition, we understood that the problem was really these gigantic corporations that control the entire supply chains. And these corporations can be ruthless” [Andrews, 2014.11.21].

A hog farmer resorts to breaking the law instead of paying market wages. Supermarket corporations refuse to pay producers the market value of their products. Consumers aren't making enough to afford food at the prices legal employment practices and fair payment of farmers would set because their corporate employers aren't paying living wages. That's the American "free" market at work.

What's the real tyranny here? Who in our society is exercising dictatorial power? And what was I saying the other day about slavery?

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Like Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, President Barack Obama is using his executive authority to tackle immigration problems. Specifically, President Obama announced last night that he is inviting more than four million illegal immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law." Here's the deal, in the President's own words:

We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve with been in America more than five years. If you have children who are American citizens or illegal residents. If you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.

Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you [President Barack Obama, address to the nation, transcript posted by Washington Post, 2014.11.20].

Speaker John Boehner says the President is sabotaging efforts to pass legislative immigration reform, even though in his speech last night, the President explicitly invited Congress to pass a bill that would render his action unnecessary, and even though Speaker Boehner has had an effective, bipartisan immigration reform bill on his desk since June 2013. Speaker Boehner says the President is showing he can't be trusted to enforce the law, even though the Boehner Congress has given the President only enough funding to deport 400,000 out of the nation's 11,000,000 illegal immigrants, requiring the President to choose on which minority of illegal immigrants to enforce the law. The action the President announced last night allows law enforcement to focus on crooks and terrorists.

Someone in Rep. Kristi Noem's office types up a response saying that "'my way or the highway' negotiation won’t work." This from the office of a Congresswoman who supported shutting down the federal government and crashing the economy when the President wouldn't yield to GOP demands to repeal health care reform.

Rep. Noem claims that the President is defying the will of the people of South Dakota. On what basis Rep. Noem divines that popular will is unclear, since South Dakotans all seem content to enjoy the cheap produce and other labor made available by those millions of illegal immigrants and unwilling to crack down on the businesses that exploit those workers.

Rep. Noem mentions something about the President's being unconstitutional, but she has yet to enunciate the legal grounds on which she would prosecute the President... probably because there are none:

...[T]he president’s discretion to enforce the immigration laws has always been the cornerstone of a de facto guest-worker (or, if you want, caste) system from which most Americans have greatly benefited. That’s why Republicans’ claim that the president is shredding the Constitution sounds so odd to people knowledgeable about immigration law. He’s just doing what countless Congresses have wanted him to do, and have effectively forced him to do, so that Congress itself could avoid charges that it has created a two-tier system of citizenship where the bottom tier is allowed to stay in this country and work, but is not allowed to vote, to benefit from welfare programs, to travel freely, or to enjoy the full protection of workplace laws. Of course, you might say that the whole illegal immigration system, with its two-tier system of rights, violates the Constitution or at least constitutional values, but the fault for that lies with Congress, not with the president [Eric Posner, "Obama's Immigration Plan Is Perfectly Constitutional," Salon.com, 2014.11.21].

The President is taking legal and practical action to solve problems. We can only wish Speaker Boehner and Rep. Noem were similarly committed to practical action for the good of the country.

Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.

My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forbearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come [President Barack Obama, 2014.11.20].

Related: Under President Obama, illegal immigration from Mexico has declined, but overall numbers of illegal immigrants in the country have remained relatively stable, dropping just a bit from 11.3 million in 2009 to 11.2 million in 2012.

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Joop Bollen is trying to distract the Government Operations and Audit Committee from his illegitimate contract with himself, his apparent mismanagement of Northern Beef Packers, and his multiple violations of state policy and law by claiming that reporters like Denise Ross and Bob Mercer have wrecked South Dakota's chances of making more money from the EB-5 visa investment program.

Joop Bollen appears to forget that Governor Dennis Daugaard yanked Bollen's contract and put EB-5 on ice before any journalists started digging into South Dakota's EB-5 program. Bollen's own narrative to GOAC suggests that many in the state wanted to back away from the "liabilities" of EB-5 (which were what, Joop, if everything was being run properly?) back in 2009; the program hung on only because Bollen, Richard Benda, and the Governor's Office wanted to keep that money train rolling. Bollen ignores the fact that South Dakota at his behest (and with Mike Rounds's support) gave up the key competitive advantage of public, state-run status for its EB-5 program, making it harder for us to stand out among the growing number of EB-5 Regional Centers.

Maybe Bollen should switch to blaming Obama. Monday, the President announced that the U.S. will offer new, longer visitor visas to Chinese citizens. Starting today (November 12), tourist and business visas for Chinese visitors jump from one year to ten years. Student and exchange visas stretch from one year to five years.

Keep in mind that one attraction of EB-5 visas has been for wealthy Chinese to buy their kids' way into the country so they can attend American universities. But EB-5 visas cost $500K in at-risk investment plus tens of thousands in fees for lawyers and middlemen like Joop Bollen. President Obama's visitor visas don't give permanent residency the way an EB-5 visa can, but five years on an extended visa for a $160 application fee might sound like a bargain to a lot of folks considering EB-5.

South Dakota reporters are not killing EB-5. South Dakota has lost its EB-5 edge due to decisions made by South Dakota's EB-5 czar and his collaborators in state government. The President's new visa deal with China may reduce EB-5 demand even further.

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