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Gov. Kristi Noem aims to lure virus-weary Minnesota businesses with ad campaign

Minnesota officials said they were confident businesses would remain in the state despite the invitation.

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Governor Kristi Noem speaks during the Mount Rushmore Fireworks Celebration on Friday, July 3 in Keystone. (Matt Gade / Republic)
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ST. PAUL — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday, July 16, announced she is launching an ad campaign in Minnesota to lure businesses fed up with the state's coronavirus response efforts to cross the border.

Noem in a news release said the South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development had begun the rollout of TV, radio, social media and print ads in Minnesota aimed at "companies that have been burdened by recent government overreach and unprecedented regulation."

"No other state offers the freedom that we have in abundance, especially anyone running a company," Noem says in a video ad. "In our state, you won't find the restrictions that hold companies back in other places."

South Dakota took a more lax approach than its neighbor to the east in responding to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, never ordering a statewide stay-at-home measure. Local governments did issue stay-at-home orders to quell the disease's spread. And soon after the pandemic took hold in the United States, Noem, a Republican, began a series of national television appearances touting the state's hands-off approach.

Now, the Commissioner of the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development said that growing national spotlight has helped recruit businesses to the state after owners grew tired of restrictions on capacity or services in other states.

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“Right now Gov. Noem is unquestionably our biggest marketing tool," Commissioner Steve Westra said in a news release. "The national exposure she has received for how South Dakota handled COVID-19 really resonates with business owners."

Noem and Westra said they'd tracked an uptick in businesses moving to the Mount Rushmore state recently but didn't provide numbers of how many businesses relocated due to COVID-19-related policies. The ad buy was estimated to cost $369,500 and economic development officials in South Dakota said they didn't have a sense yet of the state's return on investment.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday said he wasn't worried about Minnesota businesses defecting to South Dakota due to state restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

"The idea we’re going to pit one another (against each other) and we’re going to take this COVID situation as a reason to start (moving) business, I don’t think it’s a good sell," Walz said. "I think people will stay in Minnesota."

Walz touted Minnesota's heftier testing capacity, noting Minnesota has a lower per capita rate of infections than South Dakota. As of Thursday, South Dakota had a higher rate of confirmed infections, at 858 per 100,000 people. Minnesota, meanwhile, reported a rate of confirmed infections of 769 per 100,000 people. South Dakota reported a substantially lower death rate from COVID-19 compared to Minnesota.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner Steve Grove defended the state’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, saying they struck a balance between public health needs and economic concerns. He pointed to the state’s low rate of poverty, high rate of business survival and the number of Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota as evidence of it being hospitable to business.

“We are a state that prizes our talent, that prizes business growth and that companies flock to to grow, and I think we don’t need an ad campaign to remind Minnesotans of that," Grove said. "It’s just the truth."

Forum News Service reporter Matthew Guerry contributed to this report.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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