Just days after 150-some Aberdeen residents gathered to hear a California speaker rally them to reject refugee resettlement and the recruiting of immigrant laborers, a major Huron employer that has built its success on refugee and other immigrant workers has chosen Huron over Aberdeen as the site for its next major expansion.
Dakota Provisions thought about investing $39 million in two projects in Aberdeen, Mitchell, and Huron. Instead of expanding in Aberdeen or Mitchell, Dakota Provisions will build new processing and cold storage facilities close to home, creating 250 new jobs in Huron.
Dakota Provisions already employs about 1,000 workers, 600 of whom are Karen refugees from Myanmar and perhaps another 160 are Latin American immigrants. Given its heavy reliance on immigrant labor, Dakota Provisions has pioneered partnership with the federal government to certify immigrant worker status and weed out illegal immigrant workers. Dakota Provisions also owns two retail stores in Huron and Brookings.
Meanwhile, the leaders also talked about the shortage of skilled and unskilled workers in town, and the fact that hundreds of jobs are going unfilled. It’s hard to attract new businesses or for existing ones to expand when they can’t find workers, they said. Beadle County has an unemployment rate of 2.4 percent [Roger Larsen, “Air Service, Postal Facility and Other Concerns Expressed to Rep. Noem,” Huron Plainsman, 2016.08.15].
Huron Superintendent says Dakota Provisions caused Huron’s student population to rebound from a low of 1,900 to the current 2,500. Proportionally, 250 new turkey jobs could translate to another 150 students. Don’t all those foreign kids strain the school district?
The Huron school district has a 49 percent minority enrollment, by far the highest in the state. And 33 percent of the students are enrolled in the English as a Second Language program.
Some came to Huron not proficient even in their native language because there was no schooling in the refugee camps. But now students are graduating from high school here and going on to college [Larsen, 2016.08.15].
Kids may be graduating and going to college, but in the 2014–2015 school year, Huron’s four-year cohort graduation rate was 76.79% and high school completion rate was 83.54%. Those figures are both a little higher than Rapid City’s but lower than Aberdeen’s, Watertown’s, Pierre’s, and Sioux Falls’s. Raising kids from zero formal education to high school graduation isn’t easy, but Huron is rising to the challenge.
Those turkey jobs will bring housing construction—even with the housing that will be freed up when the Dakota Access Pipeline is finished and its all-too-brief economic stimulus disappears, someone will need to buy more concrete and lumber and building permits to house those 250 new workers and their families.
Those turkey jobs may also make up for the loss of 48 U.S. Postal Service jobs that may happen if Rep. Kristi Noem can’t get answers (after over two years of “trying”) about the threatened closure of the Dakota Central mail processing facility in Huron. Even if all of those mail people choose to chop turkeys, Dakota Provisions will still need 200 more workers to staff its expansion. And unless Huron baby boomers want to come out of retirement, persuade their kids to make more babies, or persuade their grandkids to move back to Huron, Dakota Provisions is going to need a community that welcomes immigrants and recognizes New Americans as an essential part of their economic development.