2011 is drawing to a close. The end of a year prompts us to reflect on the year past and plan for the year to come. In previous years, I have reflected upon and planned for my personal life, but I would now like to share with you my thoughts on the year for our state.
2011 has been a difficult year for South Dakota. We faced down a significant budget deficit. We battled unprecedented flood waters along the Missouri River and in the northeast. We responded to the growing threat of a tiny beetle in our Black Hills Forest. We lost military service members, police officers, a corrections officer and firefighters. And we learned of the terminal illness of one of South Dakota's foremost leaders.
The past year has tested us with trials and tribulations. It has presented many challenges. Still, even while difficult, 2011 had its positives.
We added jobs, and our state's 4.3 percent unemployment rate is less than half of the national rate. South Dakota's ag producers experienced one of their best years ever. Our State Fair had a banner year, and the Black Hills Playhouse is back on its feet. Our state government changed a number of policies, toward more openness and transparency. While 2011 was difficult, South Dakotans have many reasons to be proud.
Some of the hardships we endured in 2011 will make us stronger in 2012. Already, we have seen that the state budget adopted by the Legislature had its intended effect. South Dakota looked the deficit in the eye, solved it, and can now consider new investments and new pine beetle emergency in hopes we can curb its spread.
While we cannot change the problems we face, I am proud of how our state has responded, and I know that our resolve will serve us well in the future.
We can also build on our successes. With our unemployment rate continuing to decline, we can look at ways to improve and expand our workforce to meet the demands of a vibrant economy. Our No. 1 industry, agriculture, can look for more value-added opportunities to enhance our success. South Dakotans can access and interact with their government more effectively, and I hope that the improved access will be utilized. The successes of 2011 can be springboards for further growth and achievement in 2012.
The year gone by was a tough one for our state, but we responded with determination to meet and overcome many challenges. We made tough choices and solved problems. We cannot replace the friends and neighbors that we lost, but we can resolve that we will always remember them.
Because of our response to the adversity we faced in 2011, South Dakota will be stronger in 2012.
As 2011 comes to a close, I wish all South Dakotans a very happy and prosperous New Year. I know that our state has much to be optimistic about, and I look forward to serving South Dakota in 2012.