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E-board takes no action on Noem workforce ads

PIERRE, S.D. (SDBA) – The South Dakota Legislature’s Executive Board took no action this afternoon (Monday) after hearing testimony on how the “Freedom Works in South Dakota” TV ads were developed.

The board took an hour and a half of public testimony and a private executive session, a day before the 2024 South Dakota Legislature convenes tomorrow (Tuesday).

The investigation was prompted, in part, by articles by Sioux Falls Live questioning the propriety of how the request for proposals was developed and how the contract was awarded to Go West.

Nate Welch, former marketing director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said it was clear that officials wanted Go West—which had developed media for Gov. Noem’s re-election campaign—to get the workforce development project.

“To be brief,” Welch said, “I would say yes, I had multiple conversations with members of GOED that encouraged me to pick Go West.”

However, Welch said that he did not make the final selection, but ultimately GOED Commissioner Steve Westra did. He said he testified because he wanted to “provide transparency.”

“I’m not here to poke anyone in the eye,” Welch said.

“Three of the five companies (that were finalists) gave us creative proposals,” Welch said. “Go West did not. It is relatively hard to look at a marketing company and not judge them on their creative.”

Before and after Welch’s public testimony, current GOED Commissioner Chris Schilken said the ads featuring Gov. Noem dressed in various much-needed professions had been successful, and the process of selecting GO West was proper.

However, Democratic Rep. Oren Lesmeister (D-Parade) thought it was clear that Go West appropriated the concept of Gov. Noem posing as a worker from Lawrence and Schiller, a Sioux Falls marketing and advertising company.

“It just looks copyrighted, pasted between these two proposals,” Lesmeister said. “Why no investigation? Didn’t it look that way to your office?”

Schilken said no.

“The (news) article about stealing someone’s idea is not true,” Schilken said. “GOED employees work very hard. That did not happen.”

Republican Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) said the ads and the process to develop them were “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Schoenbeck, the board’s vice chair, said the ads are effective, but he did not understand why GOED engaged in “connivery” to pick a vendor they wanted for a personal services contact.

Republican Rep. Hugh Bartels (R-Watertown), the board chair, said, “We’ve spent enough time second-guessing it.” “You find someone you like, knows the industry, and has ideas on how to get it done,” he said.

After pointed questioning by Republican Rep. Chris Karr (R-Sioux Falls) and Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) of Schilken, Schoenbeck said legislators were “beating a dead horse.”

The board took no action and adjourned.

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