Under the authority of this year's Senate Bill 235, Governor Dennis Daugaard handed out another $1.8 million this month to various communities and businesses around the state for economic development. These funds follow a quarter million handed out to 3M in Brookings and $600K to Marmen Energy in Brandon.
Last spring, I noted that South Dakota's economic development efforts seem to flow toward communities that are doing pretty well on their own, perhaps at the expense of smaller communities losing talent and dollars to their bigger neighbors. One could argue that Governor Daugaard is continuing that pattern with his SB 235 money. In these two rounds of funding, over 50% of the money has gone to Brookings County. The biggest single recipient is the new and well-heeled Novita LLC, which gets $771K to build a plant in Brookings County to make distillers meal and grain oil.
But Governor Daugaard is spreading the wealth to more rural areas. Infrastructure money is going to Sturgis and Alexandria. More economic dollars are going to Belle Fourche, the Southern Black Hills, Bison, and Sisseton. As we see with the example of Alexandria, a small investment can make a big difference, arguably a bigger difference than those same dollars would make in a big growing community like Brookings or Brandon.
Money follows money. The Governor likely receives more pitches from bigger investors for bigger projects in bigger towns. But those big investors are in the big towns because those communities already have lots of advantages to attract their dollars and dreams.
So the question remains: given the market advantages towns like Brookings and Brandon already have, should the state's economic development programs give priority to smaller communities like Bison and Alexandria?