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Bryan Hisel, executive director of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, speaks to the Mitchell Rotary Club Thursday afternoon at the Ramada in Mitchell. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

SD officials ready to battle workforce issue

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Bryan Hisel sees opportunities in South Dakota's workforce shortage.

"Sometimes, what appears to be a problem is really caused by something good," Hisel said in an interview Thursday with The Daily Republic.

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Hisel, executive director of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke Thursday to the Mitchell Rotary Club and gave an overview of a series of six workforce summits, the first of which will be held April 29 at Mitchell Technical Institute. The event is open to the public and free to attend, but attendees must pre-register at southdakotawins.com/workforcesummits.

The summits are part of Gov. Dennis Daugaard's workforce initiative, aimed at developing South Dakota's workforce to better suit the needs of businesses in the state, which have been hindered in recent years by a shortage of skilled workers.

The shortage, Hisel said, is the result of economic development and business growth in the state, which has many businesses unable to find qualified candidates to fill their available jobs.

"This is the opportunity we've been waiting for," Hisel said. "It's going to require more people to have skill-sets that match the employment opportunities that are open."

Hisel said the summits will be conducted in a fashion similar to the Governor's Pheasant Habitat Summit, held in December in Huron, with talks by guest speakers followed by small group discussions.

After the workforce summit in Mitchell, summits are planned to be held May 21 at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown; May 22 at Days Inn Convention Center in Brookings; June 3 at Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn in Rapid City; June 4 at the Dakota Event Center in Aberdeen; and June 17 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center.

"We're excited to be the first of summits," Hisel said

Dusty Johnson, the governor's chief of staff, said Mitchell was selected as the site of the first workforce summit because it's a community that cares deeply about addressing the state's workforce issue.

"Mitchell is a community that is already having this discussion," Johnson said. "The governor wants to go to people who are experts in workforce."

Johnson said the governor hopes to get suggestions from the public and employers about what else the state could be doing to develop its workforce and attract skilled workers.

"If we want our economy to continue to grow, we have to address that problem," he said.

As a large number of baby boomers start to retire in the next decade, the state's workforce issue will only become more widespread, both in geographic scope and the types of industries affected, Hisel said.

"There are going to be more jobs than people," he said. "That means tremendous opportunities for future generations."

Since 2009, Mitchell has added as many as 1,120 jobs, when the city's total employment fell as low as 8,010 and the unemployment rate peaked at 7.4 percent, according to the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation. In July, the city's job count reached 9,135 and the total available labor force reached 9,410, the highest totals since at least 2006, when the department began tracking statistics at the city level.

The city's total employment fluctuates from summer to winter, as the number of seasonal jobs in the tourism and construction industries start to vanish.

The city's total labor force was 8,760 in February, the last month for which data is available. That's 315 more jobs than in February 2013.

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