This story has been updated.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem’s administration is spending big in trying to attract more workers to South Dakota. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has paid nearly $6.5 million so far to two private businesses, from Tennessee and Ohio, to spread the word.

“The Freedom Works Here marketing campaign has been by far the most successful workforce recruitment campaign in South Dakota’s history,” GOED marketing director Missy Sinner told KELOLAND News.

The national advertising effort launched in June. GOED Commissioner Chris Schilken gave an update Wednesday to the state Board of Economic Development. He said some 4,500 people have already filled out a form on the Freedom Works Here website expressing interest and approximately 1,000 people are working through the final steps. “The purpose,” Schilken told the board, “was to encourage people to look at career opportunities in South Dakota.”

According to the state Department of Labor and Regulation, the seasonally adjusted June numbers showed South Dakota’s labor force at 481,900 with 473,000 employed and 8,900 unemployed. The jobless rate of 1.8%, is tied for the lowest in the nation.

So where’s the money going?

GOED’s contract with Designsensory Inc. commenced on June 24, 2021, and will end on June 23, 2024. The contract amount was capped at $450,000 for the first year. According to the contract, “Subsequent year amounts will be determined based on available budgets.” On June 16, 2022, the total amount for the first and second years of the contract with the Knoxville, Tennessee-based company was amended to $1.9 million.

State records show payments to Designsensory totaled $1,899,732.92 through June 9, 2023. Six days later, on June 15, 2023, Schilken signed a second amendment to the contract that increased the total amount to $2.9 million for the first, second and now third years.

GOED’s contract with Strategic Media Placement / Go West Media became effective on April 11, 2023, and will end on June 30, 2024. The contract amount was capped at $5 million. State records show payments through July 27, 2023, to the Delaware, Ohio-based company had totaled $4,448,617.55.

There’s also GOED’s contract with Lawrence & Schiller that commenced on August 16, 2021, and will end on August 15, 2024. The total amount of the contract was capped at $450,000. According to the contract, “Subsequent year amounts will be determined based on available budgets.” The Lawrence & Schiller contract however hasn’t been amended.

GOED has paid Lawrence & Schiller $159,081.49 so far on that contract. The Sioux Falls-based company has held a variety of state contracts for many years. State records show payments for all contracts with Lawrence & Schiller totaled $15,982,112.49 last year and $19,871,720.35 the year before.

Designsensory created the Freedom Works Here tagline, according to GOED’s communications director Sarah Ebeling. “We quickly began utilizing the tagline as another way to promote South Dakota,” she said. “The current ad campaign for Freedom Works Here was awarded through an RFP to Go West Media, powered by TSGco, allowing us to continue to use the Freedom Works Here tagline on a national level.”

A small but targeted piece of the campaign, for example, involves stock car racing. Team Live Fast Motorsports reached out to the GOED commissioner about a possible NASCAR sponsorship, according to Ebeling. She said the estimated $130,000 cost was a 75% discount, thanks to a previous sponsor who was unable to fulfill their commitment.

The package included two NASCAR races, having a promotional version of the race car for nine days at the Sturgis motorcycle rally that’s currently underway, and having the car at the governor’s July 27 press conference. The “South Dakota Is Hiring” message is across each side, between the car’s number and the rear tire.

The No. 78 Chevrolet, driven by BJ McCleod, has started 15 races so far in 2023. His highest finishes were 16th place at Dual 2 in Daytona and 18th at Talladega. He currently ranks 34th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings.

GOED’s marketing director Sinner called Freedom Works Here “a game-changer for South Dakota’s workforce.” She told KELOLAND News that, as of Friday, South Dakota still had 23,416 jobs to fill.

“GOED always utilizes competitive bidding for our marketing contracts, and we did so for the Freedom Works Here campaign. We received several bids and selected Go West Media to take the lead on the campaign,” Sinner said. “Their bid stood head and shoulders above the rest because of the sophistication of their targeted marketing, the quality of their creative product, and their reputation for fantastic customer service.”

She said Designsensory created the Freedom Works Here brand and slogan; created and maintains the website, including web analytics; delivered some targeted digital marketing at key events; and provides photo and video assets for many marketing efforts.

“Lawrence & Schiller has assisted GOED with the We Save You a Spot community co-op marketing campaign, which partners with individual South Dakota communities to build off of the Freedom Works Here effort. The communities dictate when, where, and how those ads go out,” Sinner said. “We are grateful for each of these excellent marketing organizations’ continued partnerships.”