Jobs Growth in Great Plains Leads the Nation

From national news and commentary outlets comes news of what we who live here already know. Our job markets are in a major expansion of hiring despite a moribund national economy.

With a wealth of jobs and too few people to fill them, the Plains states are among the rare pockets in the nation on a hiring binge. South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, are among the top five states for job creation so far in 2011, according to a recent Gallup survey of U.S. workers.

With very low unemployment rates, recruiters in these states are moving aggressively to lure skilled job seekers to relocate from economically depressed regions, where disillusionment is often more common than career opportunities.

“In 2008 and 2009, a lot of people were still waiting,” according to Clinton Brown, a recruiter with the Experis-Manpower Group office in Sioux Falls. “Now people are a lot more willing to go where the jobs are. They see the jobs aren’t coming back.”

Brown should know. His company is at the forefront of South Dakota’s effort to get skilled workers to the state, where the unemployment rate is just 4.4 percent — far below the national rate of 8.1 percent.

After a series of brainstorming sessions, South Dakota state leaders launched an aggressive national recruiting program this spring. The state hired Milwaukee-based Experis-Manpower to go after workers for manufacturing, engineering, information technology and other high-demand openings at South Dakota companies. The state’s goal is to hire 1,000 skilled workers by 2014.

South Dakota has about 11,000 job openings statewide, and the state’s rapidly growing companies are clamoring for more workers, according to Kim Olson, a policy adviser in Governor Daugaard’s office. “The demand outstrips the number of people we have,” says Olson. “We just recognized we can’t do this alone.”

New jobs are advertised for 30 days in South Dakota, giving homegrown workers first chance at the opportunities. Then they’re forwarded to headhunters among Manpower’s 700 offices nationwide. So far, Olson says, more than 20 of the state’s largest companies have posted jobs with the South Dakota Workforce Initiative program. A separate effort is under way to attract medical professionals with inducements that include tuition reimbursement for new doctors willing to work in the state’s small towns.

In addition, the Dakota Roots website reaches out to former residents and graduates of South Dakota colleges who moved away. The site provides a service that might appeal to job seekers frustrated with impersonal Internet job boards: one-on-one assistance from career counselors who help match applicants with job openings. Heartland boasts two young engineers who came home from other states.

In Sioux Falls, recruiter Brown says his office interviews 10 to 14 job candidates each day and forwards the top applicants to state employers.  South Dakota’s lack of income tax, abundance of outdoor recreation and affordable housing are among his main selling points, especially for job seekers with family ties to the region. This year, Forbes ranked Sioux Falls Number 1 in its list of best small places for business and careers.

Similar activities are underway in the other Plains states where numerous jobs await skilled workers.

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