South Dakota Republicans need to repudiate the anti-Islam, anti-refugee hysteria being fomented by out-of-state speakers, anonymous local groups, and some of its own legislators, like Senators Neal Tapio and Al Novstrup, not just because it is the right and American thing to do, but also because, from a purely pragmatic, partisan perspective, these often GOP-sponsored hate rallies may drive a wedge between the SDGOP and one of its most important backers, the Chamber of Commerce.
On Wednesday, the Sioux Falls Area of Chamber of Commerce issued a remarkable statement decrying these anti-immigrant programs as bad for business.
The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce is focused on advancing and promoting the economic health and quality of life of the region. We support the business community specifically as they work with us to grow Sioux Falls and provide opportunity to newcomers and lifelong residents alike. Workforce challenges persist in our region. Fostering a community that welcomes and celebrates our increasingly diverse community is an important piece of tackling those challenges.
That is why the business community of Sioux Falls is so concerned about recent news-making events which have featured speakers from outside of South Dakota, supporting policies antagonistic to immigrants and new demographic groups in Sioux Falls. These new Americans are already an essential part of the regional workforce. Many have become entrepreneurs and business owners themselves, further contributing to the vibrancy of Sioux Falls.
Legislation and policies that negatively target specific populations will not help Sioux Falls address our changing workforce needs. They will not help grow the state economy and certainly do not create new opportunities for South Dakota residents. Rather, such policies will make it more difficult for employers to fill open positions and further create negative perceptions of the people and businesses of South Dakota, both nationally and internationally.
We should not fear immigrants or refugees who call Sioux Falls home – we should embrace them and work shoulder-to-shoulder with them to achieve shared goals for the betterment of our community. Our history is filled with examples of how different groups were scorned or discriminated against in the past. We believe discrimination is harmful to us all and we should not repeat history.
The Chamber has a track record of supporting policies and initiatives that have grown and sustained the economic strength of Sioux Falls for decades. The best way to bring economic advancement opportunities to all our residents is by fostering an environment that attracts new residents and offers businesses the freedom to recruit talent to Sioux Falls [Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, “The Chamber’s Position on Workforce Development and Inclusivity,” ChamberNews.com, 2017.09.20].
The Sioux Falls Chamber tried to avoid pointing their fingers at any specific program, speaker, sponsor, or party, but this statement to the press makes the political threat to the GOP clear:
Jason Ball, president and CEO of the Chamber, demurred when asked late Wednesday if the statement was specifically about the GOP event.
“It’s really less about specific events that have come up, although it does involve several speakers from outside the state, and I’ll let people judge what those are,” he said.
But the statement was in reaction to concerns expressed by Chamber members and a desire to lay out the group’s policy priorities, he said. And state legislators should take note [Jeremy J. Fugelberg, “Sioux Falls Chamber ‘Concerned’ About Events Antagonistic to Immigrants,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.09.20].
I ache for Chamber Pres. Ball to live up to his pluralized last name and just say, “Trevor Loudon and Neal Tapio are full of crap, just like anyone else who falls for their McCarthyism.” But I’m satisfied that the Chamber goes on the record as strongly as it does, repeating what we’ve heard from Minneapolis Fed. President Kashkari, Aberdeen economic developer Mike Bockorny, and other economic experts: if we want to address the workforce shortage that every business and political leader in the state says we have, we need to welcome new workers into our workforce.
The Sioux Falls Chamber can speak with authority to the merits of welcoming immigrants and diversity. Sioux Falls has lots of immigrants, and its poverty and unemployment rates are down while incomes and education levels are up.
Notice that the Chamber warns that racist hyperpartisanship (calling Democrats Communists and Marxists in addition to Muslim Brotherhood collaborators? seriously?) doesn’t just conspire to keep out immigrant workers. The Chamber says that when Republicans promote “legislation and policies that negatively target specific populations”, they do more than keep brown people, Muslim people, gay people or other people whom Republicans want to cast as less than people from filling gaps in South Dakota’s workforce. Such discriminatory policies also drive away white, Christian, straight people who don’t want to live in a community that elects legislators who support such backward, hateful policies.
Democrats, memorize this statement from the Sioux Falls Chamber. Democratic candidates, every time you speak to a Chamber meeting or other business leaders, read this Chamber statement back to them.
And Chamber members, remember: on immigration and workforce, South Dakota Republicans are putting an unseemly and economically harmful ideology first, while we Democrats are ready to do business with you 100%.