South Dakota campaign seeks to lure more workers

Farm Forum

When nonresidents think of South Dakota, they tend to think tourism and agriculture, followed by a blank, according to a Sioux Falls ad agency executive.

With that in mind, state officials said they will need to get in the collective consciousness of out-of-staters if they want them to move to South Dakota.

In a nutshell, that was the message during a 90-minute presentation on Wednesday featuring officials from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, local business leaders and a consumer insights professional from Sioux Falls-based marketing firm Lawrence & Schiller. That gathering was held at Aberdeen’s Smart Center.

The problem of needing to lure more people to South Dakota to work is not new, but the approach rolled out by GOED Commissioner Pat Costello is.

“People aren’t going to come to us. We need to go to them,” Costello said. “What we’ve done in the past is a lot of recruiting of businesses, but what we’re doing with this new initiative is focusing more on the individual.”

Costello said the campaign is based around last month’s rollout of a new state-run website – – that is charged with reaching people 25 to 44.

Taking it a step further, Costello said the state is focusing on singles or couples who do not have children and are generally considered blue- or gray-collar workers.

“Getting people with families to move somewhere new, that’s a tough nut to crack,” Costello said. “For the money we have to spend and the resources we have, we think the demographic that we’re targeting is the most likely to move here.”

Released in April, the first ad of the campaign featured a tongue-in-cheek comparison of living in South Dakota or on the “cold and barren” planet Mars.

The spot, produced by Lawrence & Schiller, went viral last month and garnered attention, not all of it flattering. Comedian Jimmy Fallon, for instance, joked about comparing South Dakota to a far-away, uninhabitable planet.

“We know that people in the age group we’re targeting are very skeptical of mainstream media,” Costello said. “We liked the Mars ad and thought it would get people’s attention, but we didn’t know it was going to go viral. There were some national media outlets that took a poke at us, like Jimmy Fallon, but we’re willing to laugh at ourselves.”

Costello said that to date, the ad has been mentioned by 265 media outlets across the nation. The aim, he said, is to get people to think about South Dakota.

Lawrence & Schiller executive Tracy Saathoff said what her firm found after polling more than 80 individuals in Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois is that people who don’t live in South Dakota tend to think of the state as offering a “less than rich” quality of life with an economy based mostly on tourism and agriculture.

“What we found through our research is that there are limited images that come up in people’s minds about South Dakota,” Saathoff said. “People know about Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, but they don’t otherwise know a lot about the state. Right now, South Dakota has an image barrier.”

The website, which Costello said is an evolving venture, features video testimonials of recent re-locaters, job listings, photos and lists of various independent state-ranking lists.

If the state can find a way to lure potential employees to the state, Hub City Inc. Vice President Jim Campbell said, there are companies that want to expand and do business in South Dakota.

“I was point blank asked by our parent company if I could find 150 skilled laborers for a new venture here,” Campbell said. “I said there’s no way I can do that. South Dakota was the first choice from a business and tax climate standpoint. We just don’t have the people.”

Mary Lehecka Nelson, public relations director for the GOED, said there are presently 15,900 jobs open in South Dakota.

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