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Rural states can do tech. That’s not a question. In the 1850s, it took 80 hours of labor to produce 100 bushels of corn. Today, because of technology and innovation, it takes less than two.
The Homestake Mine used to produce gold carried out in mine cars. Soon it will yield science.
Small, rural states can also conduct world-class research and development, a fact that South Dakota has been busy proving over the last few years. In mid-July, South Dakota learned that the National Science Foundation had selected the abandoned Homestake gold mine in the Black Hills as the site of its new $300 million Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. Deep? Don’t you know! The Homestake mine has 375 miles of tunnels drilled more than 8,000 feet into the earth.
The Yonder is not Science magazine and we don’t pretend to understand the technical reasons for conducting experiments a mile below the surface. But it makes sense to us that there’s no better place to study the earth than from the inside out. And it stands to reason that some experiments will work better when they are shielded from the sun’s light and radiation.
What we understand a bit better is that South Dakota has made tremendous investments in the past few years in technology — and those investments are paying off.
South Dakota ponied up $35 million to help transform Homestake into a science laboratory. And T. Denny Sanford, a Sioux Falls banker (#117 on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans), pledged $70 million to the project if the NSF picked Homestake for the lab instead of an abandoned mine in Colorado.
The tunnels at Homestake were drilled in a search for gold. Now abandoned, the mine shafts will be used in advanced scientific research.
The Homestake mine is just one recent bit tech progress in South Dakota, as reported by Ben Shouse in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Sanford donated another $400 million for a health complex in Sioux Falls that includes money for medical research. (Working with the University of South Dakota, Sanford Health will soon begin the Sanford Project — “a research venture aimed at choosing and curing a significant disease in 10 to 20 years,” Shouse reports.) A state-of-the-art oil refinery is also planned.
South Dakota woke up when it realized it was spending less on research and development than any other state. Since 2003, the state has approved six new doctoral programs at its universities and opened new research centers. The latest research center will help develop drought resistant seeds.
South Dakota still ranks low on all measures of R&D spending, as the chart below will tell. It’s a small state, and every governor and university president in the U.S. is scrounging research money. But researchers are moving in to South Dakota and so is private research funding. From 2000 to 2005, South Dakota ranked second in the nation among states in the percent increase in industry-financed research and development at universities. (See the chart below for all 50 states.)
And it’s all happening because people in a rural state decided that a small population and vast distances couldn’t keep them from developing a high-tech, high-wage economy.
Percent Change in Private Sector R&D Spending At Universities
|Ranking||State||2005 Spending in $1,000||Percent Change 2001-05|