Thursday , 12 December 2019
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FiredUp: Why is S.D. Department of Labor focused on “top cities”?

FiredUp: Why is S.D. Department of Labor focused on “top cities”?

See if you can see what bothered me in the first two graphs of this press release:

Dakota Roots Adds New Feature to Website

PIERRE, S.D. – In an effort to continue recruiting out-of-state workers, Dakota Roots has added a new Web page featuring South Dakota communities at www.DakotaRoots.com.

Every month, the Featured Community page will highlight interesting facts, news and popular jobs of the state’s top cities. This will give out-of-state job seekers more information and an inside look at what the Mount Rushmore state has to offer. 

Spot it yet?

It’s two little words: “top cities.”

The idea is a good one, really: Tell people who are interested in moving to South Dakota what our communities can offer. Give them a little flavor of life here. But why do those communities have to be our “top cities”? If you go to the Dakota Roots website, the first featured community is Sioux Falls.

I shared my thoughts earlier about the Dakota Roots program, and how it could do more to focus on smaller communities in our state. The graphic from the Dakota Roots annual report shows where their efforts are targeted:

Map of Dakota Roots placements, 2006-2011

Sioux Falls and Rapid City get the bulk of their placements. And now, with this new featured communities program, they are likely to be in the “featured” slot more than others.

I’m sure for the SD DOL’s purposes it matters not at all whether Sioux Falls or Faulkton gets a job placement—Dakota roots can go down anywhere, right? They can count either one as a Dakota Roots success.

But focusing on the states few cities (how many “top cities” can South Dakota reasonably claim, anyway?) is not the best approach.

First of all, it’s not fair to taxpayers—many rural residents (those who own farmland) pay far more in property taxes than city dwellers, even if their incomes are roughly equal. Why should cities disproportionately benefit from new families moving in, if they are being helped there by a state-funded program?

Second, the state’s top cities apparently don’t need the help. A Prairie Business article on Tuesday said that the population of South Dakota has grown—but that growth is largely centered on just a few population centers:

Meanwhile, the growth story is not true for all parts of South Dakota, as several counties have consistently lost population over the decades while areas including Sioux Falls, the Interstate 29 corridor and the Black Hills show consistent growth trends.

I realize that you can argue that Dakota Roots is a job placement program, not a job development program. They are featuring the communities where there are jobs!

But that’s a bureaucratic argument. We have another arm of state government that is doing economic development. There is absolutely no reason why Dakota Roots couldn’t serve the interests of both the S.D. Department of Labor & Regulation and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and in doing so also serve the interests of the people who want to move back to the small towns where there are not necessarily all that many jobs—but where there are opportunities.

It comes down to deciding what kind of state we want to live in. Is it better for the state if the only places that are optimistic and thriving are Sioux Falls and Rapid City, and perhaps Aberdeen, with everywhere else dismissed as dead or in hopeless decline? Or would it be better to live in a place where there’s life and energy in every county?

If we want the second option, then we shouldn’t structure our state programs as if we want the first one.

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