South Dakota tourism industry seeks answers to workforce shortage
State continues to see record-breaking growth
RAPID CITY S.D. – The month of March is here and before we know it, the summer visitor season will be too.
Tourism leaders met in Rapid City on Friday afternoon to work on challenges on the horizon. The round-table discussion at the Hotel Alex Johnson with state tourism leaders looked to grow the Black Hills biggest industry.
2018 marked the 9th consecutive year of growth with visitors spending just shy of $4 billion. But leaders are concerned about the lack of workers to fill the state’s nearly 50,000 tourism jobs.
According to Jim Hagen, the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism, many of those jobs are in the Black Hills.
“I think our biggest challenge right now is labor,” said Hagen. “And for our tourism business in the state, it effects the hours they can stay open, it even effects full-time employees who even have a job because they cant find part time labor.”
Tourism leaders are also working with Congress to grow the cap on Visa programs which bring in guest workers for the season. Hagen also said he’s exploring developing programs on the state’s reservations to give young Native Americans opportunities in the tourism sector.
Though tourism numbers and revenue continue to rise, leaders say bringing people into the state is the top priority. Senator Mike Rounds also attended the discussion on tourism. He said one of the biggest challenges is competing with surrounding states.
“We’re in competition with lots of other places that want this good clean industry, they want visitors to come to their special places,” Rounds said. “What we have to do is make it easy for them to come to South Dakota.”
Rounds stressed the need for federal support of the state’s roads, highways and airports.
“In Washington, one of our obligations, is to make sure South Dakota receives its fair share of its infrastructure dollars as well. Make sure when it comes to maintaining our roads, bridges,we’re able to do that.”
Last year, visitor dollars contributed almost $300 million in state and local tax revenue. Leaders say they hope to grow those numbers significantly this year.