Poll Shows Perceptions Of SD's Economy

May 4, 2016

South Dakotans list agriculture as the number one driver of economic development. That’s according to a recent survey that polled people nationally and gathered data in three separate states. Some people’s perceptions of the economy don’t jibe directly with information from businesses. 

A Wells Fargo and USA Today survey polled South Dakotans to find out which sectors they think contribute to a healthy economy. The top responses in order were agriculture, health care, education, construction, and retail.

Greg Johnson works for the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation. He says businesses posted more retail job openings last year than in any other category in the survey’s top five. Johnson says the department’s job board included more than 15,200 positions in retail and not all companies list jobs with the state.

Johnson says business leaders are concerned about finding qualified employees, but he says retail is rooted in competition.

Moderator Jodi Schwan, US Senator Mike Rounds, Pat Costello, Pam Homan, Greg Johnson, Keith Severson
Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB

"I think that, while they’re challenged to have the workforce to do everything that they’d like to do in state and in the Sioux Falls area, that they continue to step out," Johnson says. "I know that if they see their stores busy with great percent increases over the prior year, and they see their restaurants with Greg waiting in line to get a seat, that they’re going to take a chance, compete – not only for customers – but compete for the workforce that they need as well."

Other areas where businesses say they need workers rank lower on the radar. Pam Homan with Augustana University says she’d expect technology to appear higher than 8th on a list of important economic factors.

"We continually hear a demand for needing programmers who can write code, think analytically, interpret code, adapt on the fly, and that’s not in abundance in the state," Homan says.

Homan says colleges are working to develop more programs to prepare students for careers in technology.

In a separate question, the survey suggests people who live in South Dakota see tourism as one of the state’s strongest industries. Economic development experts say people from other places think of the Rushmore State as a tourist destination.

State leaders are trying to lure new residents by showing them South Dakota is a nice place to live, not just a state to visit. Pat Costello is commissioner of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

"We’ve learned that people don’t consider South Dakota as a place to start their or jumpstart their career. They think of us as a tourism state," Costello says.

A crowd listens to moderator Jodi Schwan, US Senator Mike Rounds, Pat Costello, Pam Homan, Greg Johnson, Keith Severson
Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB

The poll from Wells Fargo and USA Today shows South Dakotans say the number one industry in the state is agriculture. But if agriculture were eliminated, 36 percent say tourism would be the main driver of economic growth.

Greg Johnson with the state's Department of Labor says he didn’t anticipate that response.

"I went back and took a look, and, in 2014 in tourism-related industries, we had over 59,000 jobs. – 14.4 percent of our workforce was working in the tourism industry," Johnson says. "So I was surprised. Now I’m not." 

Johnson says it makes sense that people outside the state and South Dakotans have similar perceptions about tourism given the number of jobs in that field.