According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Dakota’s unemployment rate is 2.9%, the lowest since March 2020. But with nearly 23,000 job openings across the state, there simply aren’t enough people to fill all those jobs.
That’s why members of South Dakota’s business and agriculture sectors met for a virtual round table Wednesday afternoon to discuss a hot button option that could fill those job openings and continue economic growth: urgent immigration reform.
Kari Karst, CEO of BX Civil and Construction, said that her Dell Rapids-based company relies on a seasonal workforce and hires upward of 130 construction workers during peak construction season.
“We need immigration reform to continue filling those essential jobs, those hard jobs, with documented workers who are willing to work,” Karst said during the round table.
Nathan Sanderson, the executive director for the South Dakota Retailers Association, noted the state’s tourism industry relies heavily on a seasonal workforce. Tom Peterson, executive director of the South Dakota Dairy Producers, said without a reliable pipeline of workers, the dairy industry can’t continue to grow.
About 35,600, or 4%, of South Dakotans are immigrants and have a near $679 million impact on the state’s economy, according to the New American Economy, a nonprofit organization focused on bipartisan immigration research and advocacy.
However, bringing more immigrant workers to the state isn’t as easy as passing out more visas.
David Owen, President and CEO of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, noted two bills, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, have both passed through the U.S. House of Representatives.
If signed into law, the first would provide a path to lawful permanent residency and citizenship for DACA recipients, while the latter would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and a path to permanent resident status for H-2A workers.
By Rebekah Tuchscherer for SIOUX FALLS ARGUS LEADER
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