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RANKIN: Investment in mining and materials education will show huge returns
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RANKIN: Investment in mining and materials education will show huge returns

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South Dakota Mines was founded 136 years ago to support the mining and mineral industries.

Today, the core disciplines of geological, metallurgical and mining engineering remain an integral part of South Dakota’s economy.

Mining alone has a $2.5 billion annual impact on the state. We believe South Dakota Mines has an opportunity to emerge as an epicenter of new technology, serving not only to increase environmental stewardship, but also to catalyze economic development in the region.

There is a bright future in the mineral industries already unfolding around Mines with much more to come. Here are a few examples of exciting work currently under way:

• Public-private partnerships are being leveraged in a new multidisciplinary entity called the Mining Hub, which explores cutting-edge technology such as autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, robotic mining, and a new era of environmentally sustainable mining practices.

• Mines faculty and students are undertaking research that could revolutionize the future of energy by tapping the massive well of geothermal heat deep inside the earth as part of a study at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead.

• New and innovative products and manufacturing methods are being created from mined and recycled minerals with innovative research funded by private industry, NASA, the DoD and the National Science Foundation.

State lawmakers have a history of recognizing the value of strategic investments in infrastructure. In 2006, state leaders approved a $40 million investment in SURF. Today, that spending has shown a tremendous return. SURF’s overall impact on South Dakota’s economy totals more than $248 million since 2008, with greater things yet to come. A new agreement with Caterpillar will explore transforming part of SURF into an underground robotic mining test facility. Caterpillar is also supporting the creation of a new laboratory at Mines to explore state-of-the-art mining technology which will include collaboration with Western Dakota Tech and local industry. These developments have the potential to open new frontiers in safe and environmentally sound mining practices pioneered right here in the Black Hills.

This year, we’re asking state lawmakers for another investment in the future of science, engineering and technology. The Mineral Industries Building on the Mines campus is in desperate need of replacement. The current building lacks the modern infrastructure required for advanced research and teaching. A new facility will provide the needed resources for our existing programs to thrive and grow. We believe a state-of-the-art facility will lead to new discoveries, spur creation of new high-tech companies and help attract new employers to the area. All of this will ultimately yield new high-paying jobs in South Dakota.

We are not undertaking this effort with public investment alone. Industry leaders are also committing millions of dollars to this project because they recognize the fantastic opportunities that evolve from collaboration with Mines. Industry recognizes that a new Mineral Industries Building on campus not only provides them with a highly skilled workforce, but it also gives them a lead on emerging technologies that will boost their bottom lines.

We hope South Dakota citizens will see the wisdom of investing in the future of earth sciences, technology and the Mineral Industries Building at South Dakota Mines.

Jim Rankin, Ph.D., P.E., is the President of South Dakota Mines.

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