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Governor: Cooperation key to combating labor shortage

Gov. Dennis Daugaard presents his workforce summit report to business, education, community and government representatives Wednesday at Mitchell Technical Institute in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

A coordinated effort by business leaders, educators and government officials will be needed to address South Dakota's workforce shortage, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Wednesday in Mitchell.

Daugaard told a crowd of about 115 people at Mitchell Technical Institute about a recently released report created as a result of six workforce summits held earlier this year across South Dakota. All of the summits were aimed at finding ways to mold the state's workforce to better suit the needs of businesses, which have been hindered in recent years by a shortage of skilled workers.

"We need to talk to each other, so we're communicating and understanding how we can help each other," Daugaard said.

A total of at least $1 million in matching state grants will be provided to communities who develop cooperative workforce initiatives, Daugaard said. It was announced at the event that Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Jacki Miskimins will leave her position Oct. 1 to begin work as the regional workforce coordinator for the Mitchell Area Development Corporation. In her new position, Miskimins will work within the community to develop and implement a strategy to build the region's workforce and support the area's employment opportunities.

More than 1,000 people attended the six summits earlier this year. Of those who took part in the group discussions at those events, the clear message was the state's economic success depends on finding people with the right skills to fill the available jobs, the report says.

"It was clear South Dakota is already taking action to develop enough workers with the right skills and competencies to meet employer needs," the report says. "It was also clear that South Dakota will never fully solve its workforce challenges."

The report is not meant to tell communities exactly what they should be doing, but rather to serve as a starting point for the development of locally based solutions, Daugaard said.

"We want it to be a motivating document, a call to action," he said. "That's what we want this report to be."

Daugaard first presented the report Tuesday in Rapid City, and gave two more presentations on Wednesday in Brookings and Sioux Falls, in addition to his visit to Mitchell.

"I'm excited about the advance we've had in the common understanding of our challenges, but we still have a lot of work to do," Daugaard said

During his presentation Wednesday in Mitchell, Daugaard mentioned that thousands of jobs South Dakota lost during the recession have been recovered and thousands more have been added. In Mitchell, the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 2.5 percent in July, the most recent month for which data is available, according to the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation. That's the lowest city's unemployment rate has been since October 2008, right before the recession began to affect the region.

The comparable, non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the entire state was 3.3 percent in July, which is the lowest state's unemployment rate has been since late last year.

Despite the many potential ways to attract workers to South Dakota discussed Wednesday, raising the relatively low wages paid to the state's workers wasn't mentioned.

According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Dakota's average hourly wage, at $17.56 per hour, was the second lowest in the nation, ahead of only Mississippi, at $17.34 per hour.

In an interview with The Daily Republic following Wednesday's event, Daugaard said it is misleading to look only at the state's average hourly wage.

"I think it's easy to dwell upon numbers that compare our salaries to other states, or compare our wages to other states," he said. "If you're going to do that, you also need to look at the cost of living in South Dakota."

It's possible, Daugaard said, the state needs to do a better job of conveying its low cost of living and low tax burden to potential workers.

"The quality of life you can achieve with the dollars you're paid in South Dakota is still very, very good," he said.