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Huron Investing in Recruiting More Karen Refugees, Making them Managers

What was that I said—wait, that the City of Pierre said—about workers recruited from out of state not sticking around? That's not Huron's experience.

Where Pierre's workforce development project is all about cultivating workforce among existing residents, Huron going big on recruiting and retaining workers from the other side of the planet. Since 2007, 2,500 Karen refugees have come from Burma to live in Huron. The Karen came at first to work Huron's big turkey plant; they now hold jobs in 30 Huron area businesses, and Huron wants more. The big ticket item on Huron's workforce development grant application (which the state approved for the full $125,000 requested) is "Diversity Engagement," which includes more direct recruitment of Karen refugees in surrounding states, more English classes, more job fairs targeted at workers who aren't fluent English speakers yet, and more big Karen cultural events like soccer, volleyball, and cane ball tournaments and Karen New Year celebrations (January 5—welcome to 2754!).

Huron also plans to use its state grant to sponsor more management training classes. It's one thing to learn enough English to get a job at the turkey plant; it's another to learn enough English to run a production shift and budget meetings. Huron needs more of its Karen residents, who now hold one out of nine jobs in Beadle County, to be able to move up the ladder and fill the white-collar jobs from which baby boomers are retiring.

By the way, Huron's application states that in a survey of Karen residents, it found that "100% of participants felt welcomed in the community and had experienced no racism since arriving." That cultural acceptance is a key part of getting folks recruited from elsewhere to stick around. Huron and the state appear willing to invest heavily in pening their doors even wider to convince these newcomers to stay.


  1. Roger Elgersma 2015.01.24

    Government can help get a new good idea started. This situation in Huron seems to be well established enough that government is not needed to keep it going. When immigrants like the situation they tell their cousins back home to come without our spending any more money to entice them. If they want to build a soccer field they should do it themselves just like any other town building a baseball diamond did in the past. Conservatives wanting government to build them things because they are such good people is not as conservative as they might want to think they are.

  2. Tim 2015.01.24

    Conservatives seem to have a contradiction here, you have immigrants that are willing to work cheap but...they are immigrants, what do you think will win out, the bottom line or their ideology? Funny how they can get by their hatred of all things not white when their wallets are at stake.

  3. mike from iowa 2015.01.24

    They must vote for wingnuts or wingnuts would be roaming the streets with pitchforks and torches running them damn illegals out of their country.

  4. CLCJM 2015.01.24

    Roger, I don't have a breakdown of where every dollar in this grant is designated to go but from what Cory listed, it appears that most was to go for educational purposes and training that would help the Karen immigrants work and advance which should improve economic growth.I sure that's why it was approved. Making cultural improvements enhances any community and draws and keeps all citizens so, again, improves the local economy grows. Just because the 1% may not directly benefit, does not mean that the money is not well spent.

  5. WayneF 2015.01.24

    With very few exceptions, the Karen immigration has been a positive experience for Huron, South Dakota. These talented, positive people have overcome racial, linguistic, religious, and cultural obstacles and brought vitality to our community.

    State and federally funded programs have helped these new Americans to learn English and succeed in school. Children go home and help their parents learn to speak, read, and write English.

    This immigration has been win-win. I personally am glad that they are here.

  6. allen 2015.01.24

    I think the immigration of these people are great, what bothers me is we have also a great resource of people south of our border that fits the work for the meat industry also but it is tough to get them here, yet it's ok to go half way around the world to bring them, seems slightly wrong to me, especially when our freinds to the south are much better workers. I have worked with many nationalities and the Spanish are the best, Bosnia people are next, Koreans are next and the rest fall in behind that with the Americans trailing up the back end of the pack. Americans are lazy workers. I gave managed as many as 800 people in one plant and it us what it is.

  7. Tim 2015.01.24

    allen, the biggest problem republicans have with the people from the south you talk about are the size of their calf muscles and their ball cutting tendencies, just ask mike from iowa about that ;-)

  8. larry kurtz 2015.01.24

    Statehood for the tribes and Mexico.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.24

    Roger, remember: the state got the whole ball rolling by bankrolling the turkey plant with EB-5 money. That ought to be plenty of favor, right?

  10. grudznick 2015.01.24

    That's a lot of people named Karen. Half of Huron must now be named Karen. What will this do to that fair?

  11. grudznick 2015.01.24

    Mexican statehood for the tribes!

  12. larry kurtz 2015.01.24

    Imagine how ridiculous your statement is, grud.

  13. mike from iowa 2015.01.24

    Mexico isn't Spanish. Spain is Spanish.

  14. mike from iowa 2015.01.24

    Cantaloupe calves and Ivanna Kuturnutzov. iowa's S-teamed wingnut congressweasel and former KGB Agent cum sinator elect.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.01.24

    (Mike, did you come up with that Russian name yourself? :-) )

  16. mike from iowa 2015.01.24

    Actual it sorta came from a novel I read back when, titled Tattoo by Earl Thompson(if memory serves). If I remember correctly the line was something like Russian Tragedy by Ivan Kutzurnutzoff,

  17. tara volesky 2015.01.24

    In the 70's Armors employees made $13 dollars an hour plus benefits. It was unionized with a large portion of Huron ions working there. Huron thrived. Now look at the town. It went from a union town to a refugee an immigration low wage town.

  18. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.01.24

    Tara, the meatpacking plant in Huron learned how to keep the workers from earning decent pay. Armour sold the plant to Swift, so the union had to start over. In the mid 80s starting pay was $5.50. That's what I got in 1985 when I worked there. In 1987 they closed the plant and I moved to Rapid City. Of course there were several other iterations before the plant closed for good. Every time conditions for the workers got worse.

  19. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.01.24

    If you go to YouTube and search for "Cane ball", you can see how it's played. It's sort of a cross between volleyball and soccer. Interesting.

  20. Roger Elgersma 2015.01.24

    CLCJM, You missed my point. No matter what valuable way they spent the money, if they have a good system with everyone working cheap, why can not Huron pay for it themselves instead of having the rest of the state pay for it when we might wish had what they have. There comes a point when they should not need welfare anymore.

  21. tara volesky 2015.01.24

    You got it CLCJM; when I moved to Huron in 1983, the town was still rockin. The mall was filled with stores and 2 movie theaters. The Plains had live entertainment every night. We had Huron College. We had North Western Public Service, and the Tribe was kicking butt in the SDIC.

  22. leslie 2015.01.25


    I knew well an older than you blackjack dealer from the south, irish, gone now more than a decade; last saw him @3AM working the gas station on pine & 14A (gone now too I think). He clearly understood and stood above the damage racism caused, despite his raising.

    makes one think. your posts @17:13 don't.

  23. Bill Dithmer 2015.01.25

    If South Dakota was a car, it would be stalled a mile west of Murdo in the west bound lane. It would have two flat tires, all the glass would be broke out, and there would be four people pushing and one kneeling where the seat should be, steering. All five would be bitching about how far Kadoka was.

    Its time to stop spending money to support business that doesnt need the help.

    Its time to start fixing the car if you want to go some place.

    The Blindman

  24. grudznick 2015.01.25

    Wait until the compound by Pringle gets their new well drilled and the hordes move in.

  25. tara volesky 2015.01.25

    I have nothing against immigration if that's what the people of Huron wants, but then don't run to Pierre every year begging for money. Make the Turkey and Jerky plants pay.

  26. Jenny 2015.01.25

    There's a good movie called American Dream that is about the Hormel strike in Austin MN. I assume the Armour people never had a strike, since I never heard about it growing up like the Hormel strike that was in the news everyday.

  27. tara volesky 2015.01.25

    UNIONIZE! Boy is this going to tick off my friends that have management positions at the Turkey Plant!

  28. Les 2015.01.25

    How about a look at the school system with refugee status students overloading the teachers. Spend most of your time teaching English and the local children, relearn to speak English.

    Locals bus their children out to get an education and overload the next system.

    The Karen I've met are good people. Should the state finance big biz regardless?

  29. tara volesky 2015.01.26

    The state should not be financing English classes for the Karens, the Turkey Plant should. They are the ones bringing the Karen people to town. If they paid decent wages, there won't be a language problem.

  30. CLCJM 2015.01.26

    It might help clarify a few things if everyone read the grant application via the link Cory provided. The Huron School District has maintained its test scores and ACT scores so helping the Karen students hasn't destroyed the school system. However it has stretched their resources. Also, from what I read much of the funding for ESL classes will help Lutheran Social Services provide the classes to adults, with a big expansion of weekend classes for adults. It also will provide other training such as CNA and management skills that will fill a void and help the Karen families to succeed and further assimilate.
    As for the state giving Huron "welfare", I think they should because there anti-union, ant-worker policies were what drove people out of Huron and nearly destroyed it's economy. I support the idea of unionizing but SD makes it so difficult that it is nearly impossible to to achieve. I belonged to a union years ago when I worked at the SD Developmental Center(at that time, it was called the Redfield Hospital and School, or commonly the state school). The union was already in place when I started there in 1973. Someone got me involved and I joined. We had monthly informal meetings and even did a mimeographed newsletter.
    Eventually, the state must have decided we were having too much influence and went after us. Our dues were paid through payroll deduction so they knew how many and who our members were. They claimed we didn't have a enough members so called for a recertification election. Well, politicians should have to get elected under the same rules as union representation is determined. If you have 100 workers eligible for membership, at least 51 must show up and vote yes. In effect, anyone that doesn't go vote counts as a no vote. and the state controls the list of who gets to vote. There were people who had worked at SDDC for years that were turned away because their name wasn't on the list. We lost the election by one vote!! This is what the state does to workers. and this is why we need immigrants to come work here. We can't keep our own young people!
    Another thing that the grant application stated was that the civil war in Burma, where the Karen are from, has been resolved so after this year, refugee status will no longer be granted and that supply of immigrants will dry up. So Huron needs to hang on to and help the Karen succeed or we'll be losing them eventually, too!
    Another goal of the grant is to try to recruit alumni back to Huron. If Huron is becoming a booming, diverse business community, it might keep it's own, win some back and recruit others. For that I'll back giving them the grant.
    However, we need to change our attitude toward workers and see them for the valuable assets that they are instead of a pariah because they want the American Dream. And we better be doing so pretty soon because our young people are losing hope. That's why so many didn't vote in Nov. My own daughter is one of them and it breaks my heart!

  31. tara volesky 2015.01.26

    Goods points. Most people don't vote or pay attention to what's going on. Can you blame them?

  32. Les 2015.01.26

    Will the Karen give your daughter and those like her, hope, CC? Will they bring her something you could not? Isn't the Wolsey school stretched to the max with Huron locals bussed in?

  33. tara volesky 2015.01.26

    Huron is now a refugee immigration town and there is no going back.

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