In hopes of building the labor force and boosting currently-static population growth, Governor Phil Scott proposed spending $3.2 million on a glorified ad campaign to woo people permanently to the state. The multi-faceted promotional plan, if enacted, would include digital marketing, financial incentives and would enlist the state-owned Vermont Life magazine into the act.
A similar promotional effort run for years in South Dakota — now known as “Dakota Roots” — is cited by both Secretary of Commerce Michael Schirling and special assistant to the Governor and executive director of workforce expansion Dustin Degree* as a model for the success of the plan they hope to implement.
* Possibly the longest job title in VT state government — and a heavy burden (or the illusion thereof: straw disguised as iron) for a former Franklin County state Senator sometimes referred to as “Do-nothing Dustin” and “Do-little Degree.”
So what’s this template for Vermont look like? Well, in 2015 after months of study and input from focus groups, South Dakota premiered a promotional video featuring testimonials for the state. It began: “South Dakota. Progressive. Productive. And abundant in oxygen. Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?”
It closed with the tagline: “South Dakota. Plenty of jobs. Plenty of air.”
The media noted at the time that at long last there was alternative to dying on Mars.
SevenDays.com contacted South Dakota’s secretary of labor and regulation Marcia Hultman who told them they have had “really good results” and data shows the state welcomed 4,770 new workers since the program started in 2006. But she didn’t respond to subsequent questions about how the state determines whether the new residents came because of its efforts.
Since their economy has been booming it really is too bad some sort of data documenting the campaign “success” at luring workers wasn’t available. How can they prove the job growth wouldn’t have happened anyway with a healthy economy? It’s like the rooster that believes the sun comes up only when he crows.
Ironically South Dakota’s success rests on some things our GOP Governor might quickly oppose should they be suggested for Vermont. For instance the wind power industry has thrived in S.D., reportedly providing billions of dollars of investment, and thus millions in tax revenue and thousands of jobs.
And the state’s huge agriculture sector — err, make that CORN sector — is largely supported by federal ethanol subsidies and government mandates. The state has 15 ethanol-making facilities. Opposition to ethanol subsidies is more in Congressman Welch’s bailiwick since it’s a federal issue, but most snow-machine, small-engine owners, and (generally speaking) gear-heads hate the destructive ethanol-added fuel.
And how about a wage increase? You know, make life a little more affordable for thousands of S.D. workers by putting more money in their paychecks. In successful ballot measures sponsored by Democrats and labor unions and opposed by the state’s GOP, South Dakota has steadily increased its minimum wage over the years.
There is one feature of the S.D. economy our own laissez-faire GOP governor might admire: big national banks are thriving out there. South Dakota’s $3.2 billion in bank assets are the most of any state and represent nearly one-fifth of all bank assets in the U.S.
How did they get all those assets? Back in 1980’s the state loosened historically stringent lending interest-rate regulations. As a result, credit card banking moved in — check the return address on your Citibank bill. Thanks to GOP Gov. Bill Jankolow’s regulatory accommodation, big national banks that relocated there have for years been able to charge what many consider exorbitant — almost usurious — rates on credit balances.
Okay let’s give the S.D. welcoming PR-campaign the benefit of the doubt; let’s say it isn’t so much the massive government-subsidized agriculture sector or the booming wind power industry or regular boosts to the minimum wage that is attracting people to the state. I suppose it could be the result of their 2015 “Hey, at least we’re not Mars” video.
If Scott’s promo plan goes ahead here in Vermont, we may get to see just what Sec.of Commerce Shirling, workforce genie Dustin Degree, and $3.2 million dollars can dream up to beat the “Mars” bar promo South Dakota laid down. Come on, THINK!Vermont.