Workforce development priorities focus on drawing talent, educating for future needs
Kurt Loudenback knows what it’s like to have to hire dozens of people to keep a business growing.
That’s what success has meant for Grand Prairie Foods, the company he and his wife, Valerie, have grown into a national provider of food products to the hospitality industry.
About a year ago, there were 150 employees. Now, that number has grown to more than 200.
“We believe we’ll be well over 225, maybe pushing 250 by midsummer,” Loudenback said. “We use many hiring methods, and we’ve been able to do it, but in today’s low unemployment environment, that’s not easy to do.”
Grand Prairie could be a proverbial poster child, though, for workforce development efforts in Sioux Falls.
The company has been a leader in working to connect the refugee and immigrant population with job opportunities. In return, word of mouth has led to more workers. Grand Prairie also works closely with LSS to help build a pipeline of potential employees.
“My message is don’t try to do everything internally,” Loudenback said. “It’s important to be engaged in the community and important to understand the resources available.”
The Sioux Falls Development Foundation strives to be the place for businesses to connect to those resources, and with new leadership and a renewed focus on workforce development, it’s a significant priority for this year and beyond.
“Workforce development is the predominant discussion we hear from businesses, and it’s across the board from skilled trades to professional trades,” said Bob Mundt, the foundation’s president.
“Everyone needs workers: The service industry, manufacturing, processing, banks, insurance, everyone is looking for people.”
It can be a broad and daunting topic to tackle, but the Development Foundation is guided by a strategic action agenda set forth in the most recent five-year Forward Sioux Falls campaign.
These interlocking circles show how the foundation blends talent attraction and retention with talent development efforts.
Leading the effort is Denise Guzzetta, who joined the foundation in late 2018 as vice president of talent and workforce development. Her background includes two decades in the global finance and benefit industries with Fortune 50 companies.
“Denise has the credibility within the corporate arena to bring meaningful change. Her experience in creating new career development initiatives necessary for economic growth provides an effective platform to connect with the human resource community,” Mundt said.
“She’s aligning all of the pieces necessary to fully implement the strategic workforce action agenda. From students to educators to HR and business leaders, she has the background we need to connect with all those populations.”
In her first few months, Guzzetta has laid out a robust plan for advancing the strategic action.
“The Development Foundation’s role is to make sure that businesses have what they need in order to expand,” she said. “And the largest component of that is a very engaged, educated workforce. It’s critical. It’s the No. 1 need we have today.”
Dave Rozenboom agrees. The president of First Premier Bank also chairs the joint venture management committee of Forward Sioux Falls.
“As a banker, we have a lot of customers who are in business, and the No. 1 theme I hear is the single biggest limiting factor our customers have, and the business community has at large, to continue to grow and expand their business or own economy would be the labor shortages that we face,” he said.
“If you look at the Sioux Falls metropolitan area and you look back 25 years, you look back 50 years, clearly we’ve benefited from a rural-to-urban migration. And now as you look at the next 25 years, you realize that probably isn’t going to repeat itself, certainly at the same level.”
That requires the community to grow its population from alternative sources, including urban-to-urban migration and the immigrant and refugee population, he said.
The area also is challenged by its high labor force participation rate, which Rozenboom estimates is 74 percent to 75 percent of people age 18 to 65, compared with the national rate of 62 percent.
“We know we’ve got a population here that likes to work,” he said. “They’ve got a strong work ethic. The challenge is we’ve probably maximized as much of the labor participation rate as we can get, so we’ll really be dependent on population growth to provide that workforce for the future.”
The Development Foundation’s approach to workforce development starts with the number 2,173. That’s how many post-secondary students have been identified in a 100-mile radius with education in fields where area businesses need expertise.
“They represent finance, general business, engineers, construction trades, health care trades, precision mechanical trades. We need those people here now to fulfill the needs of the community,” Guzzetta said.
“The No. 1 thing this year is to pull more talent into the area. We’re focusing heavily on bringing them in through talent tours, talent draft days, and we’re looking at targeting an expanded radius by working with our area colleges and technical institutes to reach out to their alumni about opportunities to come back to the area.”
The foundation also remains nimble in its approach to worker outreach. Grand Prairie Foods has seen the benefit of that firsthand.
When Gold’n Plump closed its chicken-processing plant in Luverne, Minn., in late 2017, the Development Foundation led targeted marketing efforts directed at displaced workers.
“We ended up hiring half a dozen skilled positions from that facility in our company,” Loudenback said. “I can’t say directly what brought us those people, but certainly the total campaign had a positive effect. That’s an example of what it’s done for us and what we believe is an opportunity to help attract talented folks in the region.”
Achieving those big goals will take participation from across the business community and represents an opportunity for businesses to get involved.
Loudenback has stepped up already by chairing the workforce-talent committee for the Development Foundation, helping develop workforce strategies.
“There’s an internal and an external effort,” he said. “Internally, we want to make sure there’s engagement with businesses and the education community in Sioux Falls to ensure we’re meeting their future workforce needs. The external component involves outreach to education institutions in surrounding states and to individuals to essentially recruit from those communities.”
Guzzetta has formed a recruitment council with committees working on talent acquisition, talent incentives and career-based training. There has been strong interest from the business community, but others can still participate.
“My message to businesses is to get your people involved with us, come work with us, be part of this community, and we develop talent programming and get engaged,” she said.
The Development Foundation will continue to share information, resources and best practices through its Workforce Information Now digital portal.
Achieving the goals of the strategic action agenda and building the pipelines necessary for best-in-class workforce development will take time, Mundt added.
“Be patient,” he urged businesses. “Get connected by participating in our talent programs, our recruiting programs, job fairs we’ll be having, our WIN content, and if you have questions or comments or criticisms, call us.”
It’s a collective, community effort to develop the future workforce, he said.
“It will take us doing our job at the Development Foundation but also will take companies doing their job to create the type of environment people want to be part of, remaining flexible in their benefits programs and hiring practices and being open-minded to new ideas and maybe new populations.”
Back at Grand Prairie Foods, Loudenback echoed that sentiment.
“There’s a vibrant process in place now to make sure the needs are defined, and there’s communication going on to make sure the workforce is educated to meet those needs,” he said. “Let’s continue to build Sioux Falls as a community together, and let’s not try to do it independently.”