BELLE FOURCHE – “I don’t think of Belle Fourche as manufacturing, but as an ag based economy,” said Department of Labor Secretary Marsha Hultman. However, she continued, she has found out that the economy is changing and Belle Fourche is on its way to becoming a manufacturing area with 89 manufacturing based businesses.

Over 20 people were on hand to hear what Secretary Hultman had to say at the Thursday morning meeting during Manufacturers Week. She was there to explain the sources of labor in South Dakota and reasons to look forward to a bright future in Belle Fourche.

Small business is a growing industry in South Dakota Hultman pointed out. The average weekly wage in manufacturing is over $900, with an unemployment rate of 3.3% in South Dakota. The unemployment rate measures someone who doesn’t have a job, is able to work, and has looked for work in the last four weeks.

The regional workforce is an interesting statistic, with 94 job openings in Butte County and 406 candidates for those jobs. Hultman said that shows that there are about one and a half people for every job in Butte County. The state statistics show that the average is half a person per job.

South Dakota has the highest number in the nation of those that have multiple jobs. Hultman noted that part of the problem is the low wage base in South Dakota. However, South Dakota is the number one state for inbound migration according to United Van Lines. Who is moving here? Eighteen to 34 year olds and 45 to 54 year olds make up over 30% each of the inbound group.

Hultman gave ideas for what can be done to draw workers to this area. There are three areas of focus:

*Numbers-recruit and retain

*Students don’t see school as relevant

*Employers don’t have enough qualified applicants for jobs available

Part of the solution to these problems is to make sure young people have access to career counseling. There is a need for a huge workforce with technical skills, Haltman said. It’s important to partner with the schools.

The Build Dakota program is one such program that focuses on learning strategies to build South Dakota’s workforce. The program will be coming to the Belle Fourche area Oct. 18 and 19, according to Hollie Stalder, Economic Development Director. The roadshow will have an evening session at 5th and Grand Plaza from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 18. There will be several speakers that are geared toward building business in South Dakota. Contact 605-892-5065 for more information.

“We are the boots on the ground,” Stalder said. We need to be positive about our region and let people know how great it is to work here in this area she continued.

Representatives from the West River Business Service Center, Donna Leavens and Tim Crawford, spoke to revenue financing available for small businesses. The organization can provide gap financing when a small business cannot get a bank loan. They also provide business planning for no cost.

Featured speaker Deb Brown spoke to the business owners and gave some concrete ideas that could be used to improve local business. Brown is from Save Your Town. She believes that small towns thrive when they set themselves apart and had many ideas that she shared with the group.

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Brown pointed out that 70% of retail shopping is now done after 5 p.m. She asked the group if downtown Belle Fourche stores were open after 5. The answer was few or none, so she suggested that retailers try the idea of being open one or two nights a week.

By being open late on the weekends by extending business hours by two hours shows that the owner will actually work 20% less.

“Let go of control,” Brown said. Business owners need to learn to delegate and work the best hours.

It will take time, she said, to make a change work. One of the things she suggested to help make it work is to bring out items only for the new time, such as snacks or retail items that will only be seen during new hours.

She gave other suggestions to put a new face on retail, including changing the music, inviting someone in the store that is not in a brick and mortar building, and make shopping an experience.

She pointed out that empty buildings are an opportunity, not a liability. Put it out there that Belle Fourche is a wonderful place to do business, she said. Always share what’s possible and don’t wait for someone else to do it, she concluded.

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