For all of the goals for her fledgling administration, Gov. Kristi Noem said her primary focus remains on future generations of South Dakotans.
“I’ve been on the job for seven or eight weeks, and it’s been incredibly humbling to be your governor,” Noem said at a lunchtime gathering of the Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Thursday’s address in Rapid City was the fourth stop in what Noem calls her "Priorities Tour," speaking in more detail on goals previously laid out during her inaugural address and in a State of the State message before the Legislature in January.
“Everything that we do should be thinking about our kids and grandkids. They’re going to live here and continue to help this state thrive,” Noem said.
Noem spoke of the need to bring high-speed internet to all parts of the state, the need to care for the state’s wildlife habitat, the importance of ramping up workforce development efforts and increasing the availability of affordable housing.
She also addressed her aim to find what she called the state’s next big industry, focusing on bio-tech, cybersecurity and technology jobs 30 years after state laws were loosened to entice the banking industry to come to the state.
Noem said she budgeted $5 million to partner with federal funds to help internet companies invest in covering the state with internet access.
“Frankly, if we don’t have high-speed internet access everywhere in South Dakota, we can’t be successful,” she said.
Noem said she wants to streamline the state’s licensing process for skilled jobs and increase paid apprenticeships to allow workers to gain skills while earning a wage.
She said while the state’s overall unemployment rate remains low, too many South Dakotans are underemployed.
“They’re working in jobs that don’t pay them very much. We need to get them the skills they need to fill the jobs we need to fill,” she said. “We have the highest rate of working moms. Low wages mean both parents have to work to pay the bills, and if they’re a single parent then they’re really struggling.”
Noem said the state’s farmers and ranchers are still struggling in spite of weathering tough economic times fraught with low commodity prices and foreign tariffs on U.S. goods.
She said moving agriculture development representatives within the ag department to the state economic development department would give ag reps better access to economic development tools.
“I also want our economic development team to know and have a passion for agriculture,” she said.
Noem said the inflow of banking-industry jobs, thanks to legislation easing regulatory conditions, “fundamentally changed our state.”
“We need to do that again, because frankly we’ve been treading water for about the last 10 years,” she said. “We balance out budget, and we pay our bills but we’re not thriving,”
With the use of methamphetamine exploding among younger people, Noem said she will expand funding and resources to increase education, prevention, intervention and treatment options and hire four highway patrol officers to specialize in meth programs and two Department of Criminal Investigation officers to key on stopping the flow of the drug into the state.
“Opioids are a big problem in South Dakota. I don’t want to distract from that, but overwhelmingly our problem is meth,” she said.
Noem took her tour to Aberdeen and Watertown on Feb. 15 and spoke in Sioux Falls before coming to Rapid City on Thursday.