Typically, when asked about South Dakota’s number one industry, most would probably go for the obvious answer: agriculture. Tourism would certainly follow close behind, then perhaps hunting (and other outdoor related industries), financial services and the ever-evolving bioscience sector.
But that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to some locales in our state.
Travel to Yankton, South Dakota, for example and almost without missing a beat, you’d hear a completely different response: manufacturing. And one person has set the bar high when it comes to drawing attention to and enthusiasm over the growing industry, and it might not be who you think it is either.
Enter Carmen Schramm, executive director of the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce. And to say she’s enthusiastic about manufacturing, well, that may be a bit of an understatement.
“Manufacturing Week is a passion of ours because we’re able to showcase our companies and the products they make,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for us to highlight and educate the public about this industry. The diversity of what is produced in our community—from radiators to medical devices—it’s impressive. Beyond that is how our products impact everyone on some level in their day-to-day life, they just don’t know it.”
Carmen moved to Yankton in 1979 and after some time away, moved back, taking a job as the member and program director for the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce. Two years ago, she took on the executive director position. And ever since, her enthusiasm and passion for manufacturing and economic development has grown.
“I knew after moving here that Yankton had a strong manufacturing base. When I came back and started with the chamber, one of my board members made a comment that resonated with me. He asked me what he would really gain from being a chamber member besides being a community supporter and some training,” she said.
“That got me thinking about the industry more and asking how we as the chamber brought awareness to the industry. I started touring some of the facilities and talking with the CEO’s about their products and trying to learn more about them. I also realized that the public perceptions about the industry were probably one of the larger stumbling blocks we had to overcome,” she added.
And “overcome” is exactly what Schramm and industry advocates have done.
“I think we need to keep highlighting [manufacturing] careers so we can continue to change the perception of them,” Schramm said. “Perceptions are the biggest issue and our students need to know there are careers out there that we can match their interests to. We also need to continue to diversify our recruitment of manufacturing and continue promoting and recruiting what we already have available.”
Schramm and other local community and education leaders know that education of opportunities sometimes starts with the parents. Schramm praised the Yankton School District administrators and teachers, in partnership with RTEC (Regional Technical Education Center, Inc.), Mount Marty and South East JobLink, saying they “stepped up to the plate in working with the students on career paths.” Schramm added that plans are already being made to enhance those partnerships and to expand on the CTE programs.
Manufacturing Week in South Dakota started out as an idea and a goal for communities to get involved. It’s safe to say that after only two years, the growth and involvement has grown considerably. But the sky’s the limit, and Schramm doesn’t plan on slowing down.
“Every year we try to add new elements to our week-long awareness campaign,” Schramm said. “We will continue to do news campaigns with daily articles in the newspaper and interviews on local radio stations with area CEO’s and managers talking about what they produce. We’ll highlight various manufacturers during the week on our social media sites. And this year, we’re including a kick-off event, inviting the community to a cookout and open house that will showcase all the products made locally, all in one location.”
Among other events in Yankton are facility tours, a CTE open house at the high school, a third promotion video and the second annual Manufacturing Olympics. Carmen even challenged five other communities to join in the fun: Brookings, Huron, Madison, Mitchell and Vermillion.