The Black Hills Business Development Center on the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology's campus houses 20 small businesses in the technology sector. A plan proposed by Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender could increase that number.

Journal file photo

As those who own a flourishing business or manage a not-so-petty portfolio know, investments are critical to growth. It’s the same for communities. If a city or town doesn’t invest in itself, it probably isn't going anywhere except on a search for relevance in a fast-changing world.

This is certainly the case in the northern plains and even in Rapid City, which is flanked by the Black Hills National Forest and Ellsworth Air Force Base, two powerful economic generators that probably gives too many residents a sense of everlasting security.

Rapid City, however, can't continue to depend on what others bring to the economic landscape. It needs to find and attract new businesses and industries or our children will continue to leave and take future prospects with them.

Currently, the city’s economic development efforts seem to largely revolve around offering tax-increment financing and touting a quality of life that includes limitless outdoor opportunities and being in a state that does not collect income or corporate taxes.

While that is nice, it is not nearly enough. Outside of Black Hills Energy’s decision to build its $70 million corporate headquarters in Rapid City and growth in the health field and the assisted-living facility business, the local economy is anchored by tourism, agriculture, the service and hospitality industries, retirees and the government.

In September, the city issued $12.6 million in building permits. Topping the list were roof repairs needed after a hailstorm, two warehouses for an existing retailer, a new fast-food restaurant and for work at a motorcycle dealership.

The city did set a record for permits issued in August with a value of $54.8 million. Rapid City Regional Hospital was responsible for $38 million followed by a car dealership and credit union. In other months, it's not unusual for government infrastructure projects to lead the list of permits in value.

Now, Mayor Steve Allender has proposed a plan to diversify our local economy and create what is sorely needed here — high-paying jobs. Yet, some seem eager to shoot it down even before it is considered by the city council.

In a memo sent to council members on Oct. 9, Allender sought their support to either lease or give away 4.3 acres of land to be used as a business incubator for South Dakota School of Mines & Technology students and graduates, who can expect to earn more than $60,000 a year upon graduation.

In addition, many engineering students have gone on to become successful entrepreneurs. For example, Daktronics in Brookings was founded in 1968 by two South Dakota State University mechanical engineering professors. Today, the maker of scoreboards for clients around the world employs 1,000 workers in the eastern South Dakota community.

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Locally, the Black Hills Business Development Center on the School of Mines campus now has 20 customers leasing space. According to Terri Haverly, its executive director, the incubator has outgrown the space used to nurture start-up businesses that hold great promise.

If the council approves Allender's plan, the Rapid City Development Foundation that now operates the business incubator would manage the new facility, which would be on 4.3 acres in the new business corridor east of the 5th Street.

Opponents, however, are upset that the city would consider giving away land purchased for $1.4 million in 2012 for a new main fire station, an idea the city has since scrapped.

The mayor, now facing the predictable backlash for wanting to build a new Barnett Arena, could sit back and see if fate will improve our economic fortunes. Big ideas, after all, can make a difficult job even harder. But instead he has chosen to advance ideas that can build a better future for this community.

In this case, it is a low-risk and potentially high-yield investment that shouldn't raise taxes. It deserves the council's and community's support if one wants to see Rapid City thrive in a changing world.

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