I left the campaign trail the first part of this week to resume my legislative duties. I am chairing the Agency Review for the Department of Tourism and State Development. The legislature does an extensive review of each department in state government every 10 years. An essential part of that review is public comment. Because not everyone can come to Pierre, this year our legislative committee came to the public. We met Monday, September 15 in four locations--Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, Chamberlain, and Rapid City to take public comments regarding the work of the Department. We were so appreciative to have so many members of the public attend and testify at our hearings. You are never quite sure how many people will come so we were scheduled to meet from 10 until 2 hoping to accommodate most everyone's schedule. We began at 10 and because there were so many waiting to testify, we actually took our first break at 2:30, finishing after 3. We then met Tuesday in Pierre to continue public hearings and to summarize comments from around the State.
Great partnerships, ongoing support, strong relationships, and the "richness of opportunity" were the overriding themes from the public from across the State regarding their work with the department. From Secretary Benda to all of his management team, the public was extremely positive in their evaluation of the department's personnel and the professionalism and the strong working ties they have with the department. Sioux Falls Development Foundation leaders spoke of the positive effects of "consistent marketing" from the Department and testified that approximately 60% of their leads come from the Department. Along with many others, they suggested expanding the Dakota Roots program which has resulted in over 600 former South Dakotans "coming home" to work in the State. Commenting on workforce development, the new President of the Foundation, Slater Barr reminded us that, "the timing is critical." People need to know now about the quality of jobs available in South Dakota.
The Department is responsible for all facets of economic development and many felt that blending tourism, the arts, and history with economic development has encouraged everyone to appreciate the connection among all these vital facets of South Dakota life. As one person stated, "it has made us think differently." Rather than just focusing on their area, each now attempts to find possibilities and opportunities working with each other. People may come to South Dakota as a tourist but are intrigued, not only by the scenery, but by the art, or the history, or the economic opportunities.
The Arts Council was very well represented from opportunities in the A+ schools to the South Dakota Symphony. There was so much excellent testimony as to the impact of the Arts Council on individual South Dakotans that I won't attempt to mention everyone participating as I might leave someone out. We appreciate citizens coming from all over the State to share their stories and their support.
The success of our affordable housing programs (less than 2% default) and suggestions for expansion of the programs; the great historical treasures within our state; the new research infrastructure bringing in scientists and new product opportunities; the expansion of the biotech industries--these are all enhanced by their work with this department. It truly does represent--Great faces, great places, and great people!