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Municipalities, Tribes Partner to Build Workforce in South Dakota

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In an unprecedented step, various state, city, tribal, and nonprofit entities are partnering to address a pressing need to fill over 600 job vacancies in Pierre, South Dakota, while lowering unemployment rates on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. The partnership stemmed from a meeting on September 18, 2015 in Eagle Butte, South Dakota where participants pooled resources and strategized to develop mutually beneficial workforce development solutions.

“This is an opportunity for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the State of South Dakota, the City of Pierre, and nonprofit organizations to work together to implement a focused strategy that will help people enter the workforce while growing a regional economy,” says Harold Frazier, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

With a 2.5 percent unemployment rate — the lowest in the state, the City of Pierre has an abundance of job openings with too few candidates to fill them. “By all measures, our economy is doing very well, and we couldn’t be happier about this. However, the challenge of long-standing job vacancies can stifle future growth, so we are thinking outside the box and being proactive,” says Laurie Gill, Mayor of Pierre. The City of Pierre has reserved a seat on their Workforce Development Council for a Cheyenne River representative.

The economic landscape of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation paints a very different picture. A reservation-wide study recently conducted by Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures, an arm of the Tribe that is implementing a 10-year poverty reduction plan, revealed a 27.1 percent unemployment rate. For the past two years Tribal Ventures has been working with community partners on the Cheyenne River Workforce Development Taskforce. The taskforce effort has conducted a thorough assessment the reservation’s workforce, trained approximately 50 job seekers, and continues to provide assistance to individuals entering the workforce.

“Lowering the unemployment rates on Cheyenne River, unfortunately, is not a simple solution like connecting people with jobs. We are dealing with generational poverty and transforming the ideology resulting from that,” says Lakota Mowrer, Assistant Director at Four Bands Community Fund, a community loan fund and part of the taskforce.

She adds, “We are taking a holistic view of the issues at hand. With more partners we have more resources, which ultimately means greater community impact and economic growth.”

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The Cheyenne River Workforce Development Taskforce will take an active role in the partnership with the City of Pierre by outreaching to reservation communities to identify qualified candidates, providing assistance to job seekers as they apply for jobs, and helping those hired coordinate childcare and transportation. To mitigate transportation barriers the Tribe and the City of Pierre will work together to identify essential routes for public transportation.

The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation has come to the table with tools and services to advance these efforts. They operate the SDWorks website that lists vacancies statewide and offer training opportunities to help people use the site and prepare for the workforce – all of which the Cheyenne River taskforce will tap into.

“We have been addressing the workforce on a local level here for some time, and now is a good time to take that one step further – expand our horizons. We are optimistic that our partnership with Pierre and additional support by state departments will help people achieve their employment goals and benefit us all,” says Chairman Frazier.

Attendees of the September 18 meeting were: Mark Anderson, Manager of South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation; Eileen Briggs, Executive Director of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures; Harold Frazier, Chairman of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; Laurie Gill, Mayor of Pierre; Delena Handboy, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Vocational Rehabilitation; Marcia Hultman, Cabinet Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation; Arlen Lee, Director of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Oyate Connections; Lakota Mowrer, Assistant Director of Four Bands Community Fund; David Reiss, Director of Intergovernmental Programs for the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations; and Matthew Vogel, Legislative Tech for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman’s Office.

About Four Bands Community Fund

Four Bands Community Fund is the leading organization on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in the areas of small business development, business lending, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship education. As a nonprofit organization and a certified Native community development financial institution (CDFI) established in 2000, Four Bands continuously strives to achieve its mission of creating economic opportunity by helping people build strong and sustainable small businesses and increase their financial capability.