Summer is in full swing in South Dakota. Fair season is ramping up. The weather is great for a hike in the Black Hills or a day at the lake. And visitors from all over are flocking to South Dakota’s unique sites and natural wonders. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder that South Dakota is a popular tourist destination each year.
The tourism season is an important contributor to South Dakota’s economy. Tourism supports countless jobs and small businesses around the state. Last year, 14.4 million people visited our communities and spent $4.7 billion while they traveled from town to town. Growing up in Murdo, at the intersection of Highway 83 and I-90, I saw firsthand the impact of tourism on our small town. Everyone in my family worked a job related to the travel industry. From my job at the Star Family Restaurant, I saw families from across the country coming through Murdo on their way out west to visit the Black Hills and make a pilgrimage to Mount Rushmore.
Tourism is not the only thing that’s contributing to our state’s strong economy. Today, South Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. While this is great news, it can also pose challenges to job creators who need workers to staff and grow their business. I recently met with business leaders in Yankton who expressed a frustration I hear often from businesspeople around South Dakota in nearly every sector: They need more workers.
With South Dakota’s unemployment rate under 2 percent, it can be hard to find workers to fill openings. And when there aren’t enough workers on the payroll, it can hold back businesses’ operations and growth. To help fill this gap, many South Dakota businesses rely on the H-2B visa program, which allows businesses to hire nonimmigrant foreign workers for temporary, nonagricultural jobs. Employers in the tourism, hospitality, construction, and forestry industries have benefited from an additional pool of workers when they have struggled to find domestic labor to hire. I’ve made it a priority to ensure South Dakota’s businesses aren’t held back by labor shortages.
I recently introduced legislation to empower states to alleviate workforce shortages through the H-2B visa program. The State Executive Authority for Seasonal Occupations Needing Additional Labor (SEASONAL) Act would allow governors to request a specific number of additional visa slots when their states have experienced persistently low unemployment. Visa recipients would still be subject to existing program requirements that protect the domestic workforce, ensuring that states can fill open jobs without negatively impacting hardworking Americans or their wages. Governors could request supplemental visas for specific occupations or economic regions, while state legislatures would be able to impose limitations on the program. And while the federal government continues to balk at reforming our broken immigration system, my bill would ensure that Washington’s inaction doesn’t prevent state leaders from strengthening their states’ economies and supporting local businesses.
Summertime is a great time to experience the best of South Dakota, and more workers could amplify the economic success of our businesses. Whether you’re at a local fair or going down Main Street, I encourage you to support our local businesses and the products that are made right here in South Dakota. And I hope to see you there.