The worker shortage in South Dakota that caused Governor Daugaard to cast "workforce development" as one of his top priorities in January just got a bit more acute. Today's Rapid City Journal notes that the gloves have come off in the chase for construction workers in the area, with North Dakota making aggressive efforts at copping South Dakotans for work in their surging oil boom counties. Job fairs sponsored by a coalition of ND labor unions will soon be held in Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, Pierre and Rapid City. The competition will be brutal from South Dakota's perspective. The RCJ notes that industry wide, construction jobs in ND pay 20% more than their counterparts in SD. A laborer up north makes $3/hr more than a laborer here in SD. Something tells me those job fairs will have some success in luring workers away from their homes in South Dakota. Of most concern should be the potential loss of those younger workers, many of whom probably have yet to put down family and career roots. Getting situated early on in North Dakota runs the risk--a probability in my view--of losing them forever.
I think at this point the Governor should concern himself less with developing a workforce, more with holding on to the one we have. Considering that we're already in last place when it comes to median wages in this region, this will be a challenge. Actually, it will be more like a Herculean task. True, competing for workers with North Dakota will trigger a private sector supply/demand reaction which would have the effect of raising wages here. And to some extent, letting the free market do its thing has a nice laissez-faire quality to it, one that suits Republicans by nature and philosophy. But we don't live in a laissez-faire world, a fact as much attested to by Daugaard's commitment of tens of millions of dollars to economic development via the Building South Dakota initiative, as by the existence of the Governor's Office of Economic Development itself. The conundrum, of course, is that you can't go into "building South Dakota" mode without some workers doing the actual building.
And you can't keep workers here by paying them lousy wages. I noted a few posts ago that there's a noticeable migration of South Dakota technical school grads to other states. Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls sees an out-migration of nearly a third of its grads, likely to greener pastures in nearby Minnesota and Iowa, where wages are substantially higher than in South Dakota. This raid by North Dakota seems like a natural development, everything considered. And while it's true that Governor Daugaard can't raise wages in the state by anything like an executive order, some initiatives from Pierre could make us more competitive.
Unequivocally supporting a raise in minimum wages could create a "bottom-up" force in raising wages generally. Along with that, a serious commitment to increasing salaries for the state's teachers would likely convince some people that rearing their children here would give them access to some of the best teachers in the region. That we're in a "teacher crisis" situation was even picked up by the conservative Washington Times a few weeks ago. When the right-wingers at WT notice that South Dakota isn't spending enough on teachers, our generally conservative elected officials here should take note. We're an embarrassment among conservatives around the country. Get that? Conservative circles are even noticing how cheap we are when it comes to paying teachers.
I'd say lousy wages and poorly paid teachers are a deadly combo when it comes to retaining, much less developing, our workforce. Is there a solution? Yes. Kick wages up and pay teachers more money.