SIOUX CITY | A host of comments by a trio of Siouxland governors were upstaged by a well-spoken Sioux City fifth grade boy Tuesday.
Dozens of people stood and clapped after Langston Saint spoke about a bright technological future.
Those are the risks with changing up the format of the longstanding Tri-State Governors Conference, an event that was held for the 15th time since 1988 in metro Sioux City. Saint was the sole non-middle-aged speaker who addressed Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.
As was discussed in the forum two years ago, the three governors heard that highly skilled blue-collar jobs are increasingly hard to fill in the three bordering states.
Then Langston, who was named for author Langston Hughes, spoke about his love of the education he's getting at Loess Hills Elementary School in Sioux City, which is a specialty tech school. Saint's father, Jeremy Saint, is a Sioux City attorney who was sworn in as a new school board member Monday.
In a strident voice, Langston Saint described how he presumes such educational pieces will play positively and boost the Siouxland workforce to meet job requirements, "so students can stay here and grow with those communities."
At that point, many in the audience of 230 at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center stood and cheered. While there is no guarantee Saint is right that area workforce needs will turn more beneficially for businesses, his hopeful message resonated.
Reynolds remarked that Saint "stole the show," while Ricketts said he wanted the young student as a speechwriter.
As they stressed at their most recent joint meeting two years ago, governors from the three neighboring states said they want high school and college students to dial early into the growing number of opportunities of highly skilled blue-collar jobs that are increasingly hard to fill.
Tec-Corp CEO Skip Perley said the metro unemployment rate is a very low 3.2 percent, which means there are few people with solid skills looking for work. Jay Greathouse, Human Resources Department director of Interbake Foods in North Sioux City, said businesses won't be able to grow beyond current levels without more skilled workers.
"We are continually challenged by the lack of quality workers...Many are just not qualified," Greathouse said.
Reynolds, the former lieutenant governor who ascended to governor in May after Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to China, was a first-time participant at the Tri-State Governor's Conference, while it was the second for Ricketts and fourth for Daugaard.
The governors praised changes in 2017 that have come with working with a fellow Republican president, Donald Trump. Ricketts was speaking about the quest to expand biofuels in Nebraska when he noted the "night and day" difference in working with the agencies that had been led in prior years by Democratic President Barack Obama.
"This administration wants to know what governors think," Ricketts said of the Trump administration.
Daugaard continued in that vein.
"Say what you will about the president's communication style," Daugaard paused as titters of laughter went through the crowd, "his administration is very accessible."
The Siouxland Chamber of Commerce organizes the Tri-State Governors Conference, rotating the location between Sioux City, South Sioux City and Dakota Dunes.
The meeting has been held roughly every other year since the inaugural Feb. 16, 1988, meeting, which Branstad organized during his first stint as governor.