Gov. Kristi Noem recruits welders to move to South Dakota in one of her office’s Freedom Works Here campaign ads. (Courtesy of Governor’s Office)
Governor Kristi Noem on Wednesday announced a $1.5 million second phase of a national workforce recruitment campaign that has featured her as the star, after lawmakers expressed concerns earlier this week about a $5 million contract for the first phase.
“We are continuing to recruit Freedom-loving Americans from across the country to come live and work right here in South Dakota,” Noem said in a press release.
The Freedom Works Here video ads feature Noem taking on the roles of high-demand workers, such as plumbers or welders, while inviting them to the state. South Dakota has a historically low 1.9% unemployment rate, and many employers are looking for workers. Noem said the second phase of the campaign will feature four more ads.
The Governor’s Office of Economic Development manages the campaign. Legislators questioned officials from the office during a budget committee hearing Monday in Pierre.
Among other concerns, some legislators expressed frustration about the lack of directly measured results. The Governor’s Office has said 1,900 people “are in the final stages of finding their career here” as a result of the campaign. But under questioning from lawmakers, administration officials said that’s the number of out-of-state people who have asked for a state-assigned job adviser to help them find work in South Dakota, and the administration does not know how many of those people are directly attributable to the Freedom Works Here campaign.
The Legislature’s Executive Board wants to know more about how the Noem administration selected a politically connected Ohio firm to create the campaign. The firm, Go West Media, is a subsidiary of The Strategy Group, whose CEO Ben Yoho also manages Vivek Ramaswamy’s Republican presidential campaign.
The Executive Board voted Tuesday to send a letter to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Rep. Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls, said the letter will ask for details regarding how the office conducted its request-for-proposals process, the firms that applied, and the criteria used for the selection. The board wants a response by Dec. 18.
“We just want to know how this firm was selected,” Karr told South Dakota Searchlight. “As more stories have come out, more questions have been raised and we simply want to know what the truth is.”
Karr, who is a member of the Executive Board and Appropriations Committee, said Noem administration officials did not tell legislators about phase two of the campaign during Monday’s appropriations meeting. Karr said he learned about phase two from Wednesday’s press release.
The press release said the budget for phase two will be approximately $1.5 million, but did not say who will create phase two of the campaign or where the funding will come from.
Amelia Joy, a spokeswoman for Noem, responded in writing to South Dakota Searchlight questions but did not identify a funding source. She said the administration will continue to work with Go West Media and will provide information to the Legislature’s Executive Board as requested.
The $5 million for the first-phase contract with Go West Media came from the state’s Future Fund, which is controlled by the governor and designated by state law for “purposes related to research and economic development.”
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