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Selling Bill Janklow on deep-underground science was simple, despite the complicated physics involved.

"It was easy for him to get excited," says University of Pennsylvania physicist Ken Lande. "He was a man of great enthusiasm. And while it was a new issue for him, he took it on readily and figured out what was going on very rapidly."

That, Lande said, was the beginning of essential government support for a lofty notion that has since become a deep reality called the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake.

In so many projects and programs in South Dakota, a number of them west of the Missouri River, Janklow was a key player from the start. He also was an easy sell with Lande and other scientists back in 2000, during the last of his four terms as governor, during meetings on the laboratory.

They were considering how to convert the former Homestake Gold Mine in Lead into a cutting-edge underground science laboratory. They met in convenient places, including a steak house in Sturgis. Ever the big-idea guy, Janklow bought into the project right away.

"I think he saw it in several lights," Lande said. "He saw it as a wonderful mode for science education for young people in South Dakota. He saw it as a way to bring industry to the state and stop the brain drain of youth leaving South Dakota.

"And he saw it as a great way to convert this mine into a science facility, to give it a future as well as a past."

Janklow would take his energy for the project to the bank, finding $100,000 in state funds to establish a laboratory transition office in Lead. The Republican governor followed that by working with Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, who secured a $10 million federal support base.

And the project was underway toward and eventual hand-off to Janklow's successor as governor, Mike Rounds. Rounds continued and expanded state support and collaboration with the scientists and the South Dakota congressional delegation to advance the project.

Rounds and the Sanford Lab - named for the generosity of banker and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford - will go down in state history for their laboratory work. But Janklow shouldn't be forgotten, Lande said.

"If Gov. Janklow had not been strongly supportive, there would have been nothing for Gov. Rounds to do when he came into office in 2003," he said. "So it was critical for Janklow to do what he did."

The critical roles that Janklow played in West River projects large and small are beyond easy calculation. Ron Wheeler, the executive director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, was there early on with the Sanford work. But as a former cabinet secretary and economic development director for Janklow, Wheeler saw much more than the physics work.

Janklow changed state economic development concepts to a regional strategy and structure. That brought a valuable team approach and region-wide perspective to economic development and business recruitment, Wheeler said.

"The concept was that if a business comes into Sturgis or Hot Springs, Rapid City and the whole area benefits from it," he said. "So Janklow said we should put together a regional economic development structure."

Beyond the state structure, Janklow's unrelenting business recruitment and expansion work helped bring businesses such as Premier Bankcard to the Black Hills. The sister company of First Premier Bank in Sioux Falls opened in 2001 and eventually provided more than 300 jobs.

"We moved out to Spearfish primarily to expand our workforce," said Dana Dykhouse, president and chief executive officer of First Premier Bank. "That wouldn't have been possible without the changes in law that Janklow brought about many years ago."

That particular project didn't work out, long term. The Premier Bankcard branch in Spearfish ended up closing last summer, largely - Premier officials contend - because of difficult federal regulations imposed in 2010.

Dykhouse said the company offered severances packages that have helped some former employees start their own businesses. Premier Bankcard donated the building to the city of Spearfish, which leases it now to the telemarketing company TMone.

"It was unfortunate that we had to close, but there's always another chapter," Dykhouse said. "I know that TMone has hired 75 to 100 former (Premier) staff members. They're bringing them on as fast as they can. And that group will continue to grow."

The banking-credit-card surge begun by Janklow with law changes in the early 1980s brought Citibank and an important influx of jobs to Sioux Falls. Not accidentally, the credit-card industry developed as Janklow was directing the state effort that turned Dakota State University in Madison into a top-flight computer school. Premier Bankcard president and CEO Miles Beacom is a DSU graduate.

And Citibank-trained banking specialists moved out across South Dakota into other banks and businesses, Dykhouse said.

The credit-card surge also attracted First Premier and its founder, T.Denny Sanford. The Minnesotan adopted South Dakota and pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, as well as $70 million to the Sanford lab project at Homestake.

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"If Janklow hadn't gotten that industry here, none of the Sanford health initiative or the underground mine would have happened as they did," Dykhouse said.

Dykhouse also points to related work by Janklow to encourage upgrades in computer-related programs at the state's technical institutes, including Western Dakota Technical Institute in Rapid City. And West River schools, like those all across the state, benefitted under Janklow's watch from advanced wiring for Internet accomplished largely by trained inmate labor.

"He knew kids would need those kinds of skills in the future," Dykhouse said. "What he brought to all those issues was the understanding that we needed a different skill set to compete nationally. It's a new kind of world. And he saw the potential."

Janklow's hands-on approach to change crossed all state government agencies and functions. And the former governor was legendary for his run-ins with federal agencies. Some of his more notable conflicts in western South Dakota came with federal officials over timber management and fire suppression and response.

Some federal fire officials called Janklow a hazard after he ordered volunteer fire crews and state bulldozers into fire situations without federal clearance. Janklow argued that he was taking action because of federal delays.

After engaging on firefighting issues, Janklow decided to upgrade the state's wildland firefighting capabilities by consolidating and elevating the program to division status. He also recruited well-respected firefighter Joe Lowe from California to run the division and revamp the state's fire approach.

"Bill had the foresight to develop a fire organization and separate it out from state forestry so that we were prepared for and capable of rapid and sustained attacks on fires in the hills," Lowe said. "We had that ability within the state system before. But when we became a fire agency, it became our sole mission, sole focus."

Lowe said Janklow trusted him and the new division but wouldn't wait for federal action, if it seemed to lag. That showed in the Battle Creek fire when Janklow had Lowe take state hand crews into an area ahead of the burn.

"We had a fire one mile from Keystone and no fire suppression resources on it," Lowe said. "So Bill asked some questions, didn't like the answers about how long it would take and moved state resources onto that fire.

"He got things done. That was his style."

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

 

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