The Republican revolving door spins happily around Heartland Consumers Power District in Madison. As lifelong patronage beneficiary and former state senator Russell Olson advances to CEO of Heartland, he brings in Richard Benda to take his spot as Heartland's economic development director.
Like Olson, Benda has spent his career promoting government handouts for big business. Benda came to Madison last month to help his most recent employer, Lloyd Companies of Sioux Falls, win a county taxpayer handout to build apartment buildings that free market theory says should be springing up on their own. Benda was Secretary of Tourism and State Development under Governor M. Michael Rounds. That gig led to his administration of the South Dakota Investment Fund, where he apparently got his hands dirty with the ill-fated foreign investments in Northern Beef Packers:
"This is the first major processing plant to be built in close to 30 years" in the nation, said Richard Benda, loan monitor for the plant and former South Dakota Secretary of Tourism and State Development. "Every governor has talked about value-added agriculture, and that is what we are doing. It doesn't make sense for our ranchers to drive 300, 400 or 500 miles to get their cattle to a beef plant. We are going to have a state-of-the-art plant right here."
Benda said he expects area ranchers will increase the number of cattle they raise once the plant is built [Jeff Natalie-Lees, "Northern Beef Packers Plant Construction Progreses," Aberdeen American News, 2011.06.04].
At Governor Rounds's behest, Benda promoted $30 million in loans converted from EB-5 visa investor dollars to keep the NBP project moving even as it faced delays, contractor liens, and a clear lack of local investor confidence. Benda traveled to China to recruit more investors to save NBP. Those investments and millions more dollars have disappeared in bankruptcy.
Olson and Benda are two peas in the pod of South Dakota crony capitalism. I'm sure they'll make a good team at Heartland.