South Dakota State University was about to play its first-round basketball game in this year’s Summit League Championships, and the energy was everywhere.
It carried over from the Denny Sanford Premier Center to Crooked Pint Ale House across the street, where a packed reception drew dozens of students, alumni, and area professionals.
Organized by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, it was meant to “really draw the kids into the area, give them a really fun experience, connect them with our employers, connect them with our great city, make sure they know about all the wonderful career opportunities here,” said Denise Guzzetta, the foundation’s vice president of talent and workforce development.
“We’ve made it fun and engaging.”
SDSU president Barry Dunn praised the approach.
I think it’s incredibly creative. I think we’ve all be frustrated with how do we tell our story better,” he said. “I’m just all for it.
While the approach was ideal for pre-COVID times, when gatherings such as the Summit tournament drew thousands of eager participants, the strategy is still sound whether delivered in person or virtually. The Development Foundation has pivoted in recent months but still focuses on connecting talented workers with a city and with employers that are ready to embrace them.
“You look at the shift and it’s now people deciding where they want to live and then finding a job. They used to find a job and then live there,” said Dana Dykhouse, CEO of First Premier Bank, who’s also an SDSU alum in addition to being a champion for workforce development.
“Anything we can do, like the Summit League, to attract people and say this is a big-time community with a big-time basketball tournament, it’s one of the many pieces that go into a community where people want to come. And you enhance that by having job opportunities.”
That’s part of the strategy leveraged by the Development Foundation, utilizing a common draw like the tournament as a way to communicate other professional and quality of life benefits Sioux Falls offers.
“Most of these kids are getting ready to graduate or just graduated so we want to make sure they realize all the career opportunities here,” Guzzetta said.
“It’s both a short and long-term message: We have opportunities and a great place to live right after graduation, and as you develop professionally here you’re going to find a fantastic career path awaits.”
One SDSU alum, Bill Thomas, shared with students the path his engineering degree has opened – with multiple job opportunities in various industries without leaving Sioux Falls.
“I’m just thrilled to be here,” he said.
“The Development Foundation has had a couple events that have been great for us in the last year helping us understand how to recruit people locally.”
Eventually, the Development Foundation will return to connecting with students and employers in person.
But for now, the approach has largely gone online – where young talent already is used to communicating and finding information.
“We’ve always had a multi-faceted approach, and I think our forced shift to online delivery ultimately is going to benefit our efforts going forward,” Guzzetta said. “We’re seeing outstanding engagement from students, schools and businesses in our new virtual programming and we will continue to offer some breadth of that programming going forward because it is so accessible and efficient.”
A recent virtual session with Augustana University students drew dozens of participants looking for jobs and interested in staying in Sioux Falls.
“It’s important to frame when we talk about the job market and unemployment what’s happening from a macro perspective,” Guzzetta said, emphasizing for students how “we’ve done better than the rest of the states as far as keeping people employed. The current unemployment is affecting retail, hospitality and medical offices.” Those industries already are starting to report gains, though, she added.
“The good news here is what shapes our local economy for Sioux Falls is we’re heavily invested in manufacturing, health and social services, we have a very strong network of banks, and we’re starting to see the rebound in hospitality and leisure.”
For Dykhouse, who has helped lead the Build Dakota full-ride scholarship program, the need for health care workers has been pronounced.
“As soon as our health systems get geared back up, we’re again going to see there’s a real shortage for nurses, health care workers across the board,” he said. “And it is interesting when we look at education, rarely does someone get a health care degree and not go on to earn a further degree or go on with further schooling. There’s really a career path there for many in health care.”
Guzzetta encouraged the students to consider the Sioux Falls Advantage – a financially secured place where their income goes farther from the start.
“If you look at our city government, we’re very financially strong. We’re very well managed. We also have a very strong consumer and business-friendly climate,” she said.
“You immediately get the full advantage of not having personal income tax. And there are true quality of life differentiators: Very strong volunteerism, a very vibrant young professional network, very family-oriented, and we have access to great schools and great support centers that enrich and make life here just very, very good.”
She also highlighted additional in-demand professions from computer programmers to accountants.
“We have such high demand, but our supply continues to be lower,” Guzzetta said. “And these jobs are all in the family of STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – that is something that is going to continue to drive real GDP growth globally.”
She also offered the students resume and interview tips and encouraged them to take advantage of additional virtual programming.
We focus in on specific industries with talent tours and then have a day we set aside when we bring talent in and really put the emphasis on the talent – the students and professionals working here – and showcase all these technical and wonderful skills they have to offer.
At the bank, Dykhouse said he also sees a range of young talent drawn to Sioux Falls – underscoring the need to continue communicating all the city has to offer.
“They looked at Des Moines and Minneapolis and Denver and decided Sioux Falls was a great place to live with a lot of things to do here,” he said.
“The good thing is our economy has not sunk as far as others. As usual, our bottom is not going to be as deep and we will see things picking up again. So, I think there’s opportunity. People will look here and see this as a good place to come. That’s what we want to create.”
To get connected to workforce development opportunities in the Sioux Falls area, visit http://win.siouxfallsdevelopment.com/