Stu Whitney’s report on Governor Kristi Noem’s baloney-riddled “Freedom Works Here” personal celebrity advancement campaign reveals not only how much baloney she’s peddling but that she’s now trying to get the private sector to pay for beaming her face across America’s TVs.
Whitney discovers that the Governor’s Office of Economic Development sent a letter to businesses and local economic development offices asking them to pay $10,000 to help fund more national airings of Noem’s bad-plumber commercials. Such payments would also buy favors for the businesses:
By contributing $10,000, they were told, they would receive perks such as callouts on the “Freedom Works Here” website and social media channels, detailed market research data and two invitations to the Governor’s Pheasant Hunt.
The biggest incentive, though, was the promise of names and contact information for thousands of prospective employees that Noem and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) said have registered through the workforce campaign’s website [Stu Whitney, “‘Freedom Works Here’ Has Spent Millions to Promote S.D. Jobs. Now Businesses Are Being Asked to Pitch In,” South Dakota News Watch, 2023.09.18].
You’d think that a publicly funded economic development effort would seek to help all businesses and communities equally, without favoritism. But Governor Noem is making economic development a pay-to-play affair. The only businesses and communities that get to take advantage of the valuable contact data collected by a publicly funded publicity campaign are the cronies who cough up cash to keep Kristi on TV.
First Premier Bank CEO Dana Dykhouse shares my surprise at this crass turn:
“It’s kind of unprecedented for a governor to ask for money from businesses to run this type of campaign,” said Dykhouse. “I’ve never heard of it before. If someone wants to do it, more power to them. We’ve kind of gone in a different direction in training our workforce” [Whitney, 2023.09.18].
Aberdeen’s Demkota Beef, for whose recent out-of-state hirings Noem claimed credit in a September 1 press release, says it won’t buy into this put-Kristi-on-TV push, because Demkota Beef’s new hires are coming from Demkota Beef’s own recruiting efforts, not Noem’s marketing:
Mark Stammer, Demkota’s vice president of human resources, was asked by News Watch how many of those new hires came from people filling out applications and submitting contact information through the governor’s recruitment program.
“None of them did,” he said.
Demkota CEO Adam Bode, who is quoted in a Sept. 8 column by Noem talking about his company’s hiring practices, told News Watch via email that “we have not participated in the governor’s program.”
…Stammer said that it’s possible some of the new employees saw Noem’s commercials, but the hires didn’t come from online applications tied to the campaign. They came from intensive recruitment efforts in major U.S. cities and “word of mouth” among immigrant/refugee workers.
The company sends representatives to recruit and hand out fliers at sites such as grocery stores and Laundromats, with an occasional hiring event if a region shows promise [Whitney, 2023.09.18].
Besides, the ads Noem is putting on Fox News to raise her national profile aren’t reaching the markets where Demkota finds its workers:
Although Noem’s campaign stresses recruiting workers from across the U.S., Stammer said that Demkota has drawn much of its workforce from Mexico and Central America as well as Somali and Karen refugee communities.
“I don’t know that we’re in a position to delegate our recruiting responsibilities to the governor’s office,” said Stammer. “We have a lot of personnel needs and we’re going to get after them ourselves. If there are other entities that want to join forces, that’s great” [Whitney, 2023.09.18].
Kristi Noem is having fun playing dress-up and getting on TV at the public’s expense. Now she’s luring some private donors, like Elevate Rapid City and the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, to extend her TV run. But a genuine state economic development campaign would seek to help all businesses and communities equally, and it wouldn’t claim credit for recruitment that the private sector is achieving on its own.