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Workforce war: Mitchell makes progress in attracting workers as businesses expand

South Dakota was one of the nation's first states met with a limited labor supply, but those early issues may lead to even earlier solutions. The state "bellwethered the national problem" in which the labor market struggled to keep up with the em...

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Offices for the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, Development Corporation, Convention & Visitors Bureau and Main Street & Beyond. (Republic file photo)
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South Dakota was one of the nation's first states met with a limited labor supply, but those early issues may lead to even earlier solutions.

The state "bellwethered the national problem" in which the labor market struggled to keep up with the employment needs, according to Mitchell Area Development Corporation Executive Director Bryan Hisel. But Hisel said the workforce woes striking South Dakota early on may give the state a leg up on the rest of the nation.

"This is a national problem that will need to be solved one community at a time," Hisel told The Daily Republic last week.

Hisel said almost all states are facing or will see "critical shortages" in skilled labor. Amid the limited labor issues, two Mitchell business are expanding - Vantage Point Solutions and Performance Pet Products - and told the Mitchell City Council this year the expansions would collectively add 70 to 90 jobs in city limits.

But the pair of businesses could face slim pickings in the labor pool.

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Dakota had the eighth lowest unemployment in the nation at 3.3 percent in August - tied with Iowa and Tennessee. And in Davison County, according to the S.D. Department of Labor and Regulation, there are only 318 unemployed workers among a labor force of 11,338.

Thanks to work that dates back as far as 2011 when Mitchell was leading the discussion on housing concerns for new workers, Hisel said Mitchell's made some major advancements that could help it rise above other communities facing similar labor problems.

From the city's $8 million indoor aquatic center to the Mitchell School District's $15.3 million performing arts center, Hisel said Mitchell is becoming more desirable.

"They're not going to come here and work if they view this as a bad community with bad schools and bad parks and bad lakes, so working on that piece is a consistent long-term solution," Hisel said about prospective workers.

While the state may have a leg up on others throughout the nation, Mitchell's also competing with its neighbors in South Dakota to attract workers.

Hisel said a person doesn't have to look far to find other quality cities, listing Sioux Falls, Yankton, Aberdeen, Pierre, Rapid City, Spearfish and Madison among them.

As companies like Vantage Point and Performance Pet anticipate new hires, Hisel is well aware that Mitchell is up against approximately 18,000 other economic development organizations in America attempting to attract the same skilled workers.

"So we have to compete at a high level or we're not going to be successful in attracting skilled or successful people to our community," Hisel said.

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And with Mitchell's guidance, as well as the assistance of Gov. Dennis Daugaard's administration, Hisel suggested South Dakota is ahead of the curve.

"We've provided some leadership in the statewide discussion, and the governor has been very proactive in saying this is our economic development issue," Hisel said.

Daugaard chips in to solve workforce woes

Earlier this week, Daugaard was named one of 20 people selected to serve on President Donald Trump's Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, coinciding with Daugaard's workforce initiative through the Western Governors' Association.

The task force is meant to expand apprenticeships through recommendations on national initiatives, administrative and legislative reforms and private-sector participation.

"In South Dakota, the number of people looking for employment is roughly equal to the number of job openings in our state," Daugaard said in a press release. "The problem is that many of the people who want to work don't have the skills needed for the available jobs."

Daugaard said apprenticeships can rectify that problem. But, as Hisel said, the workforce concerns of the nation and state won't be solved through a quick fix.

"This is a long-term problem with slow, consistent work towards some solutions," Hisel said. "It's not going to be fixed in a three- to five-year period. It's not going to be fixed easily."

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