Noem touts South Dakota’s freedoms in State of the State speech  (Audio)

January 10, 2024

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem touted her state’s economic success and employment opportunities Tuesday, highlighting her workforce recruitment campaign to lawmakers who are beginning their legislative session.

In her State of the State address, the second-term Republican governor urged the GOP-controlled Legislature to ban foreign adversaries from owning farm land, define antisemitism, boost teacher pay and offer “second chance” occupational licensing for people with criminal histories.

Noem lauded her Freedom Works Here advertising campaign to attract people to move to the state, which has 20,000 open jobs. She said the videos, which feature her as a plumber, welder and in other high-demand jobs, have already drawn thousands of new residents and hundreds of millions of views.

“I’m not going to slow down. We can’t afford it, not when people are flocking here by the thousands to be like us, not when we are the few beacons of hope left in this country,” she said.

South Dakota, which has about 900,000 residents, had a 2% unemployment rate in November, just behind North Dakota’s 1.9% rate and Maryland’s 1.8% rate. Nationally, the rate was 3.7% for that month, the most recent data available from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Noem said South Dakota’s workforce has grown by more than 10,000 people in the last year. In a news release, she noted “huge increases of out-of-state applicants seeking licenses in South Dakota — including a 78% increase in plumbers, a 44% increase in electricians, and a 43% increase in accountants,” reported from state licensing boards.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree said he welcomed Noem’s economic message.

“When we’ve got a strong economy, we’ve got a better quality of life. It means better education. It means better health care. It means a better all-around life for the people of South Dakota, and so continuing to focus on that is smart,” Crabtree said.

Democratic state Rep. Linda Duba said she wants to see “hard data” and the return on investment from the Freedom Works Here campaign, which has drawn scrutiny from a top legislative panel. The campaign’s first phase cost $5 million. The budget for its second phase is about $1.5 million.

Duba also said that while she supports some of the governor’s goals, she would like to see earlier help for criminal offenders on their addictions and a focus on support for families through such things as child care and food assistance.

Noem touted South Dakota’s parenting and pregnancy resources, including a nursing services program for first-time mothers, care coordination for pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid, and safe sleep recommendations for new parents.

The governor also announced plans to hang the flags of the Standing Rock and Rosebud Sioux tribes in the state Capitol rotunda on Wednesday. The two tribes will be the first of the nine tribal nations within South Dakota’s boundaries to have their flags displayed. Noem called the tribes “part of who we are as South Dakotans.”

In December, Noem presented her budget plan to lawmakers, including 4% increases for the state’s “big three” priorities of K-12 education, health care providers and state employees. She pitched a nearly $7.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2025.

Hear the governor’s full speech by clicking below: