Building a Stronger South Dakota: A Plan for a Stronger South Dakota Economy

In my day job as a finance professional, I’ve learned that the economy is pretty simple: it’s people. And in South Dakota, we’re lucky to have some of the most honest, common sense, and hard-working folks to build our economy. Our approach to building a stronger South Dakota should be centered around our best resource, our people. South Dakota’s needs include training people for the jobs we already have, creating jobs for the people we educate, and planning for robust economic development regardless of where people live in our state. I’m focused on creating opportunities for South Dakotans and working together to make sure nobody gets left behind as we develop, grow, and prosper. I’m a proud South Dakotan, and I’ll fight to make sure our economy rewards the hard-working families that make our state strong.

-Senator Billie Sutton

Strong Career Opportunities with Good Pay

Tech Careers

South Dakota is one of a few states with good-paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor's degree. We are facing a workforce shortage, especially in fields like construction and welding. Billie’s plan for a stronger South Dakota economy includes training people for the jobs we have and developing apprenticeship programs and public-private partnerships between industry and our tech schools to make sure students and trainees are job-ready.

Professional Careers

In South Dakota, we believe that hard work should be rewarded, but in many professional careers, our low wages prevent folks with years of schooling from realizing the benefits available elsewhere. The average wages for each educational level in South Dakota are quite telling:

Folks who spend the time and money to get bachelor’s and master’s degrees aren’t getting the same return on investment as those with associate degrees. South Dakota has some of the lowest wages in the nation for professionals like nurses and teachers. Billie recognizes that many of our young and highly educated students are leaving the state because they don’t see the jobs or wages they need to build a strong and responsible future for their families. Billie knows economic capital trails human capital as long as South Dakota prioritizes creating jobs that pay reasonable wages. His work to raise teacher pay, utilize federal dollars available to expand healthcare coverage, and increase provider reimbursement rates to free-up more money for nurses wages are examples of the big-picture approach Billie will use to close South Dakota’s wage gap. There’s room for all levels of education in our economy, and a stronger South Dakota is one where hard work actually pays off.

Education for a Strong Workforce

Early Exposure to Tech Ed

One of the most important elements of economic and workforce development is education. It is through carefully designed educational experiences that students find their fit in the workforce. Our high schools offer great opportunities to present career and technical exploration earlier, and the need is especially strong in rural South Dakota. In Billie’s hometown of Burke, the school district partnered with three others to buy four mobile units with a grant from the Future Fund, each offering a career & technical class like manufacturing, engineering, biomedical engineering, and welding. This is the kind of innovation we can bring to all our schools, urban and rural, so all our students get exposure and experience to job opportunities before making post-secondary decisions.

Billie’s plan for a stronger economy includes developing CTE grant programs to encourage schools to be collaborative and innovative in creating these opportunities for students and in connecting them with the post-secondary options that put them on the path to jobs. We must give schools the resources to build partnerships with tech schools and industries to give opportunities to students of all interests. Billie will work with educators to develop tech experiences for our students and explore more ways students can earn high school and college dual credit while gaining work experience in the community.


Access to Higher Education

Not only is it important to provide exposure early to different career opportunities, we also need to make sure that traditional and non-traditional students can afford to further their education at tech school and four-year colleges. The cost of higher education has been increasing rapidly, and tech schools are no exception. Some programs have a nearly $20,000 price tag per year. Billie will work to keep the costs of higher education down while also increasing needs-based scholarships so that every interested student has the chance to advance their skills and knowledge and join our workforce to make South Dakota stronger.

Build a Strong South Dakota for Everyone

Filling existing job openings is just one part of the solution. We also need to work to create new job opportunities. Billie will work with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to build more partnerships with local economic development organizations. Together, this team will create a plan for economic growth that encompasses every part of the state, including our reservation communities, and prioritizes good-paying jobs in both our cities and small towns. Resources like the REDI Fund are a good starting place for businesses to find help in expansion or training efforts, but we can do more to make this process easier and help small businesses grow. Future Fund dollars can be better targeted and used more efficiently to invest in people and create opportunities. Investments in local infrastructure, a strengthened healthcare system, and affordable housing are imperative to make South Dakota a place folks want to live and do business. Billie will fight to make South Dakota a welcoming place for businesses and families alike in order to strengthen our economy.

Innovate for a Strong Future

In order to make sure South Dakota’s economy continues to grow in the future, Billie recognizes the need to encourage and invest in innovation for all our major industries.

Farming and Ranching

Agriculture is an area where we’ve seen technological advances lead to more efficient use of our resources. Billie will continue to stand behind our producers as they continue to innovate in bio-tech, value-added and precision ag. A rancher himself, Billie understands the importance of promoting homegrown product in our state; we raise world class meat, and we should all eat it here. He is a proponent of making it easier to process meat on a small scale, at the local level, as well as placing labels on meat that designate it’s South Dakota raised.


While protecting the resources we have, we can also invest in forward-thinking energy production and focus on energy efficiency in our projects. Billie will work to fuel the state fleet with E-30 to support our ethanol producers. He will also work to establish a grant program to assist communities and nonprofits in their energy efficiency ventures.


Entrepreneurs and small business owners are the heart of rural South Dakota communities. Billie will fight to renew the spirit of entrepreneurism in South Dakota by keeping it easy to do business here and ensuring a ready workforce by investing in people. Billie will work to make South Dakota the best state for entrepreneurs with a welcoming environment for new ventures and start-ups; he’ll build that atmosphere with investments in infrastructure, broadband connection, and an equipped labor pool. Talented residents—not government—are what drive growth and development.   


Billie also sees promise in our tourism industry and will work with interested parties all over the state to put together an innovative tourism plan that includes all 66 counties and our state’s reservations. He’ll work to extend the tourism season to include the winter months and keep people coming back with modern marketing technologies and classic South Dakota hospitality.  

With smart investments in our best ideas and input from all industries, Billie knows we can achieve a stronger South Dakota economy for all South Dakotans.