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It’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month

I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about South Dakota being ranked one of the hardest working states in the nation. And we continue to be the number one state for economic recovery — Moody’s Analytics has our economy operating at 105% on its “Back to Normal Index”. Despite all these positive economic indicators, businesses here are still struggling with a common challenge: workforce shortages.


Now is a great time to remind employers across South Dakota that it’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month. South Dakota is already among the top states for employing individuals with disabilities, according to data from the Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And we lead the nation in the percentage of individuals with disabilities working in management occupations.


That’s because we understand that these folks aren’t defined by their disabilities. They are defined by their strong work ethic, strength of spirit, and their ability to overcome adversity. Those are strong characteristics that any employer should want in their workforce.


The Centers for Disease Control estimate that about 25% of adults in South Dakota have a disability — the lowest in the country. And yet, about 52% of individuals with disabilities in the state are currently employed. We are far outpacing states like California and Florida, where barely a third of individuals with disabilities are employed. Nationally, the average is around 38% employment rate for individuals with disabilities.


As businesses look for ways to address workforce shortages, I encourage them to reach out to the Department of Human Services for information and resources on hiring individuals with disabilities. The Department of Labor and Regulation is also an excellent resource for businesses.  


On October 5th, the Department of Human Services hosted the Governor’s Awards in the Capitol Rotunda. This annual event recognizes individuals with disabilities who are advocates and active in the community, as well as businesses that support and work with individuals with disabilities. This year’s honorees were:


  • Outstanding Individual with a Disability: Mark Sternhagen, Brookings;
  • Outstanding Employee with a Disability: Eric Larson, Menno;
  • Outstanding Private Employer (small): TMA of Mitchell;
  • Outstanding Private Employer (large): MasterBrand Cabinets/Starmark Cabinetry, Sioux Falls;
  • Outstanding Employer (other): Brown County Register of Deeds, Aberdeen;
  • Outstanding Transition Services: Cindy Bierman, Mitchell; and
  • Distinguished Service: Vicki Nelson, Sioux Falls.


Each one of these individuals and businesses is doing their part to empower people with disabilities in our state. They’re providing jobs and workforce training. They’re working in their communities to encourage other businesses to offer employment opportunities to those with disabilities. 


In a state that prides itself on freedom, having businesses that provide these individuals with economic stability and independence is vital. We want to be a state that offers everyone a chance to achieve their version of the American Dream.


I am grateful to every person who is playing a role in this issue and fighting for positive outcomes. We are proud that our state is open for business and that unemployment rates remain among the lowest in the country. That should be the case for everyone in our state, regardless of disability status. 


If you are a business owner or employer looking for solutions to your workforce shortage, take the time to learn more about hiring someone with a disability. You will be glad you did.