It’ll take more than one New York Times report about an ill-timed trip to Mount Rushmore (whose 3,500 words aren’t as negative as some headline readers might conclude) to dampen tourism in South Dakota. Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen says South Dakota may enjoy another record year for tourism:
For two years running, South Dakota has amassed record tourism numbers. The state Department of Tourism is optimistic about turning the hat trick in 2017.
Those record numbers in 2016 add up to $3.8 billion dollars spent by 13.9 million visitors. Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen sees that national trends are setting up for another possible chart-topper.
“I expect that all the indicators that we’re seeing for 2017 whether it’s coming from the U.S. Travel Association and their economists is that leisure travel is going to be very strong. For the first time in a long time we’re actually seeing families consider taking three vacations. Business travel seems to be picking up a bit. I’m feeling pretty good about 2017” [Dan Peters, “South Dakota Still Must See for Travelers,” KSOO Radio, 2017.03.24].
Hmm… with two years of record tourism numbers and the state’s tourism chief thumbs-upping a third, tourism operators shouldn’t have any problem offering the competitive wages they need to draw seasonal workers, should they?
Maybe Hagen sees people coming to visit, but will we see people coming to stay? The low respect our Legislature expresses for minorities with laws like this year’s Senate Bill 149 allowing religious discrimination in adoption may drive some people away:
As an entrepreneur in the technology sector, my success is based on my ability to connect with top tier talent as partners, staff and customers. It would be highly damaging to my business’ brand if I were to associate it with a state that legalizes discrimination. In other words, ironically, this legislation is extremely business unfriendly.
I see in your brochure that major financial services companies have set up shop in your state. I find it hard to believe that their senior executives want their businesses to be associated with this kind of legislation or that they would condone state-facilitated discrimination against their employees or customers. I am copying the CEO’s of each of them on this letter to see if they wish to reply to that question [Randy Horton, letter to the editor, that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.03.23].
Todd Epp sees low wages and low respect for minorities working together to hold South Dakota back from the 21st-century economy:
So South Dakotans, decide what you want. Crappy jobs that don’t pay but the feeling that you’re superior to other people who don’t live their lives quite the same way that you do? Or join the arc of history that bends toward justice—and that might just get you a better paying job.
The choice is yours, South Dakota. The 19th Century ended 118 years ago. Society has moved on. Maybe it’s time for South Dakota to do the same [Todd Epp, “South Dakota’s Choice: 21st Century Jobs or 19th Century Discrimination,” KELO Radio: The Token Liberal, 2017.03.24].
As that New York Times travel writer saw, South Dakota is an imperfect land filled with wonders. If we want people to come see those wonders and stick around to build some more, we need to work on our imperfections. We need to adopt wages and attitudes better suited to the 21st century.