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SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. — The tri-state region’s governors touted programs and initiatives their respective states have launched in an effort to train, attract and develop skilled labor while acknowledging that more can be done to help businesses find qualified workers to fill vacant jobs.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem all said that workforce development is a top issue in the three states, which all have unemployment rates among the lowest in the nation and have more available jobs than unemployed workers.
“We want to partner with you. We are taking a look at all the programs we have in place. We are re-evaluating them,” Reynolds told area business leaders during Monday’s 17th Tri-State Governors’ Conference at the South Sioux City Marriott Riverfront.
The governors of the three adjoining states have met almost every other year since 1988 to address and hear of topics of regional importance during the event, coordinated by the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce. This year, as in years past, the main topic was jobs and how companies can find workers to fill them.
Mike Wells, president and CEO of Wells Enterprises in Le Mars, Iowa, and chairman of the Siouxland Initiative, told the three Republican governors that the ebbing COVID-19 pandemic is not entirely to blame for the difficulties companies are having finding workers.
“This isn’t a pandemic problem, this is a systemic problem, and we’re going to need your help,” Wells said.
Wells said the aging baby boomer population has begun to retire in large numbers, a lower percentage of working-age people are participating in the workforce and fewer children are being born to replace retiring workers.
“We have too few working-age people for all the work that needs to be done,” Wells said.
As a result, companies are offering bonuses, flexible work schedules, higher wages and other enticements to attract workers.
Ricketts listed a number of scholarship and job training programs his state has implemented to help young people graduate from college and obtain work experience. He said lifting the pandemic-related added unemployment benefits, a move also made by Iowa and South Dakota, would give more people an incentive to look for work. Ricketts said 45 percent of Nebraskans who were getting the added benefit were making more money being unemployed than by working.
“I think we all believe that was a disincentive for people to go back to work,” he said. “We’ve got to get people back involved in the workforce.”
The governors agreed that government should not be involved in raising wages, which they said is a private-market issue.
“We want to help Iowans retrain and reskill, that’s the role government should be playing,” Reynolds said.
Noem said all three states have become more attractive to workers nationwide because they did not enforce the extensive business shutdowns seen in other states during the pandemic, enabling many residents to continue working. South Dakota has become a destination for workers who Noem said value the hands-off government approach.
“South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa led the nation in being responsive to its people,” Noem said. “Recruitment is key. Telling our story and getting those workers from elsewhere is incredibly important.”
To recruit those workers, each governor said it’s important to continue to develop programs to increase availability of affordable housing and child care. With more people working from home during the pandemic, the necessity of being able to hook up to high-speed internet, especially in rural areas, was obvious. All three states addressed expansion of broadband networks during this year’s legislative sessions, the governors said.