Eric Kluver, of Terex Utilities, and Gov. Kristi Noem pose in front of a race car decorated with Noem’s image and South Dakota’s 605 area code on July 27, 2023, at Falls Park in Sioux Falls. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
SIOUX FALLS — Gov. Kristi Noem wants a few more NASCAR fans in South Dakota.
Specifically, NASCAR fans from other states with job skills.
To that end, Noem announced Thursday that the state will use a portion of the $5 million budget for the state’s “Freedom Works Here” marketing campaign to sponsor a vehicle bearing state messaging in two upcoming NASCAR races.
The “Freedom Works Here” campaign has already drawn more than 3,700 out-of-state job applicants from around the country through targeted marketing, a website and a series of playful video ads starring Noem (one has her trying her hand at plumbing). The campaign also includes the offer of personal guidance from Department of Labor staffers on where to find housing, child care or how to handle South Dakota winters, and emails from Noem urging promising candidates to make the jump from their state to hers.
“Since we started this marketing campaign about four weeks ago, over 350 million people have seen the campaign, watched the commercials and have heard the story about how freedom works here,” Noem said at the race car’s unveiling at Falls Park in Sioux Falls.
Thus far, California leads the applicant numbers with more than 600, with Texas a distant second with less than half that figure.
Live Fast Motorsports driver B.J. McLeod will race the South Dakota-sponsored NASCAR Chevy Camaro in two upcoming races in Bristol, Tennessee, and Richmond, Virginia.
The workforce recruitment push is part of a broader, yearslong effort by the Noem administration to fill open positions in the state, of which she said there are at least 25,000. The state’s current unemployment rate of 1.8% is tied with New Hampshire for the lowest in the nation.
Noem has placed a particular focus on trades, with cash infusions for things like the “Start Today South Dakota” apprenticeship program, and by pushing legislation to expand the list of occupations for which out-of-state licenses are recognized automatically.
The trades are areas of significant need.
“We would hire 25 plumbers right now, we would,” said Chris Filsinger, the CFO of Sioux Falls’ Hander Plumbing and Heating, who was on hand for the race car press conference.
The NASCAR angle, Noem said, fits squarely into the focus on trades.
“We’ve looked at sponsoring NASCAR’s races before and partnering with teams in the past, because a lot of that demographic is who we’re talking to,” Noem said. “And so looking at who might be interested in moving to South Dakota, we knew it would be effective.”
The campaign has been funded with general marketing dollars, according to Chris Schilken, South Dakota’s commissioner of economic development. Some of the money also came in the form of leftovers from a less-successful workforce development campaign that offered direct resettlement payments to out-of-staters with in-demand skills.
Schilken confirmed that the NASCAR sponsorship dollars would be pulled from the $5 million pool, but said during the press conference he wasn’t certain what the final cost would be. A representative for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, one of the campaign’s partners, later told South Dakota Searchlight via email that the sponsorship is estimated to cost $130,000.
The recruitment campaign is set to sunset in September, but Schilken said his office is looking into the costs of an extension.
Noem’s photo and the number “605,” representing South Dakota’s area code, were on the vehicle displayed at Falls Park, but Noem said they will not be affixed to McLeod’s vehicle for the two races.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated since its original publication with additional information regarding the cost of the race car sponsorship.
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