Dakota Roots brings former South Dakota residents back to work

Dakota Roots brings former South Dakota residents back to work

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Gordon Coates says he had help from two sources — God and Dakota Roots — in finding a job back in his home state of South Dakota.

The 45-year-old account executive for Bethesda Christian Broadcasting grew up the son of a minister in Presho, Timber Lake and Winner, and never felt 100 percent at home during the 20 years he spent in radio in Iowa.

“I just always felt more at home in the Black Hills, just that longing,” he said, reflecting on the landscape, the history, the Native culture.

So when his youngest child left for college, and he and his wife became empty nesters, he started looking for a new job in the Rapid City area.

“That’s where Dakota Roots came in,” he said.

As part of a package of economic development initiatives Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced recently, the state Department of Labor and Regulation is putting a renewed focus on Dakota Roots, a program that helps connect former South Dakotans — and really, any out-of-staters — with the myriad job openings in South Dakota.

It takes the job placement services the state already offers to residents, including personal case management, and makes them available to anyone, said Secretary of Labor Pam Roberts.

With a 4.2 percent statewide unemployment rate, employers in some industries are having a hard time filling jobs, Roberts said, and they are eager to appeal to workers around the country who might be qualified.

“We have businesses in the Hills who have told us they can’t find the right workers,” Roberts said.

The program started in 2006 when a booming economy left employers in the same position they’re in now. But during the recession, the state backed off from promoting Dakota Roots out of concern for residents who were having a hard time finding work.

But now Roberts is again advocating Dakota Roots, through campaigns like this winter’s “home for the holidays” effort to get residents to refer family members to the program, and a new effort to reach out to alumni of state colleges and universities.

“People want to be wanted, and they want to know there is opportunity,” Roberts said. “If we are going to continue to improve our economy here, we need them.”

At one point in his South Dakota job search, when nothing was coming together for him, Coates had almost given up, the point where he said, “God takes over.”

His Dakota Roots contact emailed him about a job opening at Bethesda, and he sent a resume that got a bite.

“It was an even greater opportunity than I had planned for myself,” Coates said.

He started with the broadcasting company in October and his wife, LaDonna Coates, found work in Rapid City, at Great Western Bank.

“Being back in South Dakota, it just feels better,” Coates said.

The program also helps encourage out-of-state natives to consider jobs in South Dakota.

Lyons, Neb., native Rhea Landholm came across Dakota Roots during a job search that ultimately led to her current position as administrative assistant for Destination Rapid City and Main Street Square.

Landholm had worked in newspapers in several small towns before deciding to switch to a marketing-oriented role. She was surprised at how “personal” of a service Dakota Roots was.

She was asked to create a profile and upload her resume, and in turn received emails from a state employment representative who sent her job listings she might be interested in. The listings come from the same statewide database — SD Works — available to in-state residents.

Landholm suggested the state should consider adding more job-search resources, such as resume-writing tips, to its Dakota Roots site, but said Dakota Roots made her feel better about her job search and made the process simple.

“And in a case like mine where the job applicant doesn’t have much time in a day, Dakota Roots is a definite life saver,” she said.

Dakota Roots also has brought workers to the state from much farther away. Craig Johnson, dean of the University

Center that opened last year in Rapid City, was in New York, looking for a position in higher education closer to Iowa, where his daughter was in school.

Johnson also liked the personal contact the program provided. In other states where he searched, “There was no personal contact other than an email from the system,” he said.

In South Dakota, his personal case manager reminded him to check for new jobs and emailed him job listings.

Secretary Roberts said 2,165 people have been hired through Dakota Roots since 2006. The state said the biggest number came from Minnesota, with 374 people moving to South Dakota, followed by North Dakota (165), Nebraska (160), Iowa (116) and Colorado (99). Top occupations are accounting, education, health care, customer service, production and food service, she said.

The program is funded by a federal block grant through the Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration.

Local employers like Green Tree Servicing have used Dakota Roots to highlight specific jobs, such as higher-level finance positions, in addition to listing all jobs with SD Works.

“Our approach was to try to find a way to get more higher-level positions out there,” Green Tree human resources director Keryn Rowland said. “We have found it helps us to find more technically advanced staff.”

With Green Tree at nearly 500 employees and growing, Rowland said Dakota Roots is a good way to reach a broader audience to fill her vacancies. The people she’s hired through the program have worked out well.

“They want to come back to roost in South Dakota,” she said. “They like it here, they’ve left for whatever reason and now they want to bring their skill set back.”

Contact Barbara Soderlin at 394-8417 or barbara.soderlin@rapidcityjournal.com.

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