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Noem Resisting Big Investment in Bioresearch and Economic Development at SDSU

When Kristi Noem opened her gubernatoriate with a vow to look for South Dakota’s “Next Big Thing,” she evidently meant herself, not any real investment in new cutting-edge industries.

The Legislature has been working for over a year on a proposal to develop a bioprocessing research and development facility at South Dakota State University. But now, with a surplus of over $300 million driven by wind power and federal stimulus inspiring all sorts of spending proposals, Noem is fighting House Bill 1210, which would spend $28 million to build that next big thing at her alma mater:

Last Thursday, an analyst from the governor’s budget office was the only opponent who testified against a proposal to earmark $20 million of state general funds for the design, construction, and furnishing of a $28 million bio-products institute at South Dakota State University in Brookings.

The project calls for scientists from both SDSU and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City to seek ways to turn raw agricultural commodities and Black Hills timber scrap into new products. The institute is one of the state Board of Regents’ priorities this year, executive director Brian Maher told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

But the budget analyst, Lara Williams, said the project wasn’t in the governor’s recommendations. Williams said the legislation should be sent to the Legislature’s budget panel and be considered along with dozens of other spending proposals [Bob Mercer, “Legislators Getting Pushback from Noem over SDSU Bio-Instiutute Money and Hemp Changes,” KELO-TV, 2021.02.20].

Governor Noem probably just wanted an extra weekend to make her list of legislators she plans to call to the office and browbeat into submission to her budget priorities. House Agriculture and Natural Resources acceded to Noem’s request for delay, kicking the SDSU–School of Mines project over to House Appropriations for consideration today. Perhaps House Appropriations can do the math faster and point out to Noem that investing in an industrial bio-research facility to expand our scientific workforce and lay the groundwork for possibly multiple big things is affordable and compatible with the Governor’s own professed enthusiasm for finding the Next Big Thing.

Related Reading: While Governor Noem sandbags scientific progress and bio-economic development, Senator John Thune used his weekend propaganda piece to remind us of the value of developing biofuels. Are our Republican leaders giving us some mixed messages?


  1. Eve Fisher 2021-02-22 08:36

    Noem wants her plane, dammit! And a few other things for HER. And besides, who needs more science? It just leads to pandemics and other hoaxes.

  2. DaveFN 2021-02-22 09:02

    The stated purpose of the institute is ” to develop new uses and new co-products from crops and timber.” This is hardly “cutting-edge” by any means, such uses and co-products requiring nothing but a literature search on what has been long ago funded elsewhere in academe and by government (the USDA has a lengthy history of such funding), and at $20 million state funding is money down a rathole.

  3. Whitless 2021-02-22 09:40

    As previously written about by Cory, Senator Thune lamented about the lack of venture capital being invested in this region. A viable way around that impediment to economic growth is for the state to invest in public research facilities. The state is well positioned currently to spend money on a bio-processing research facility, and it would no doubt be well received by farmers and the timber industry. Given the governor’s foot dragging on hemp production and now, bio-processing research, the governor appears anti-agriculture.

  4. kj trailer trash 2021-02-22 11:06

    It’s much more important to spend millions on a diamond-encrusted, gold-plated glorified pole barn to show off some livestock once a year in the backwater town of Huron. I really don’t get the cost of that–will there be wet-bar, bathroom-equipped skyboxes for rich farm-welfare recipients like Noem’s Recota Valley Ranch family to sit and schmooze wealthy dirtbag Republican donors and admire the sheep from? What a waste. Noem is bizarrely corrupt and mule-headedly stubbornly unable to listen to even a shred of criticism or any thinking which doesn’t fit her narrow, sleazy worldview.

  5. Buckobear 2021-02-22 11:10

    Her “alma mater” seems to be the only institution to award a degree based on “work experience.”

  6. Mark Anderson 2021-02-22 11:59

    Gosh kristi, bioprocessing is perfect for moo u. Its not biodiversity you know.

  7. Donald Pay 2021-02-22 13:45

    I agree with DaveFN. Cutting edge may not the right word for some of the research, but there are lots of things to discover and develop from plant/animal-based materials. Deferring to Appropriation Committee is something that is routine, and doesn’t mean it’s killed. It means they have to bring good reasons forward for the money, and they have a better shot at that than Covid Krisiti’s jet plane.

  8. SD is 20 per cent nonwhite 2021-02-22 15:08

    She doesn’t need a plane or a new car.

    She should go to a fine used car dealer in Pine Ridge or Rosebud and buy a car there. Honest.

    A one party system doesn’t work.

    Time for change!

  9. Lottie 2021-02-22 18:50

    Well if only she could “Wear a Mask”. What is wrong with her mentality. Reminds us of how Trump hid his Tax Returns. I thought white governors were Smart people?
    But she gets what she wants, it sounds like. J.D.

  10. Darrell Solberg 2021-02-22 19:55

    Covid Kristi is only interested in herself, kind of like her mentor. The state has the money from the stimulus, but evidently she would like that to go in the General Fund where she has much more control over the money. She brags how well the economy is in South Dakota but yet she wants back fill the sales tax short fall with the stimulus dollars. She is incompetent and really over her head in governing.

  11. John 2021-02-22 20:32

    South Dakota appears destine for the foreseeable future to: 1) think and invest small, and 2) ship its talented youth out of state.
    Here’s a few no-brainer things that could have been invented here – if South Dakota cared about bioresearch and economic development. I’ll begin with ag, since South Dakota thinks it’s a big thing here.
    Hello Fresh: South Dakota could have embraced the German-based company to produce and deliver high quality foods that meet and exceed EU food purity laws. The stock is up over100% in a year – hint, there is a demand. Hint, there are a few stubborn Germans in South Dakota that could play this game.
    AppHarvest: South Dakota could have embraced the huge, hardened green house version to grow and supply, year around, fresh vegetables and fruits throughout the northern plains for a thousand miles. This would directly compete against Californian and Mexican produced vegetables and fruit. How much of your local produce at your grocery this week is produced in South Dakota? Why not? South Dakota has the soil, the water, the sunlight, the transportation links north-south, east-west, needing only the weather buffer.
    TransMedics: South Dakota COULD have cared about its citizens to develop, as has TMDX, the ‘Heart in a Box”, and is perfecting its, ‘liver in a box’ and ‘kidney in a box’. Current US organ transplant protocol is: wrapping in plastic, covering with ice, and dumping the organ in a beer cooler. Only 2-3 of 10 donated organs ‘make it’ to the ultimate donation / recipient – due to distance (hello South Dakota) and other factors. This week the UK successfully transplanted a heart, via the heart-in-a-box, that stopped beating. The child is well. There is no reason that South Dakota could not have created this science for its transportationally displaced citizens.
    DermTech: South Dakota COULD have cared enough about its farmers and ranchers to create the non-invasive skin cancer detection system. DermTech merely grabs 4 skin contact lifts vs an obtrusive ‘surgery’ that cuts out tissue. The lifted skin contacts are sent for genetic analysis. Most are non-cancerous. Thus, millions of cuts and scars are unnecessary. Skin cancer is the leading cause of cancer and cancer death. If South Dakota cared about its farmers, ranchers, and outdoor workers it could have had a bioresearch program that addressed this issue.
    FrequencyTherapeuutics: South Dakota, which has no old people (sarcasm, I are one), is emerging science using stem cells to regenerate age-induced hearing loss.
    There are other examples. I invested in some of the above. I didn’t include weblinks to not delay my comment to moderation.
    South Dakota need not choose to disperse, dilute modest state funds to the broad range of topics above; but for goodness sake, pick one or two issue areas and double down. There is no reason why all bioresearch need occur in Massachusetts, and California. South Dakota needs to stop acting like a dying cockroach lying on its back, legs kicking, whining that the world is passing it by – when it would join and lead an appropriate sliver of advancing the world agenda. South Dakota has questionable contribution to deep earth research which has yet to show a statewide ‘economic development’.
    DaveFN is correct in that the ‘stated purpose’ is the antithesis of ‘cutting edge’ – rather its a re-hack of crap that hasn’t worked. It’s long past the time to think like our parents and grandparents. That freedom of imagination may be the reason why Massachusetts and California retain a hold on bioresearch.

  12. Arlo Blundt 2021-02-22 23:04

    well..she doesn’t like the SDSU project because she doesn’t understand it….the legislature spiked Sioux Falls request for an infrastructure fund…they want the money spread around the state on unsubstantial projects for their home towns, and Thune bemoans a lack of venture capital in the state….could be because the governor and legislature tend to “think small”…makes E-85 look visionary

  13. Whitless 2021-02-23 06:07

    In recent decades, the S.D. Legislature and governors have tended to “think small” regarding economic growth and that growth is accompanied by negative consequences. Examples include: (1) relaxing usury rates results in credit card processing centers relocating to South Dakota, but nationwide people pay more interest; (2) repealing the rule against perpetuities and enacting favorable trust laws results in the super wealthy establishing trusts in South Dakota, providing income for attorneys, accountants and trust companies. The downside is that the super wealthy can preserve dynastic wealth for future generations indefinitely. (3) Most recently, the governor’s unwillingness to follow CDC guidelines has brought national events to South Dakota that could not be held in other states because of COVID restrictions. While these events have been economically beneficial, they also pose a risk for attendees and participants contracting COVID.
    All too often the state has been hobbled in its efforts to attract economic development because of a lack of money. Federal largesse has resulted in a unique opportunity for South Dakota to “to think big” about creating economic growth.

  14. John Dale 2021-02-23 21:49

    Our university system is a HUGE problem with people that resist addressing the problem by design.

    They know it.

    We know it.

    Should we shut them down, quarantine them, re-open when they are not anti-America brainwashing machines?

    Universities lack nuance, like a bad blonde joke.

  15. DaveFN 2021-02-24 19:03

    We have seen all kinds of money thrown after bioprocessing within South Dakota not to mention elsewhere in the nation. A few examples in SD: In 2010 South Dakota through Gov. Round’s Initiative for Economic Development awarded SDSMT and SDSU funding for a Center for Bioprocessing Research and Development (CBRD), one of the stated goals being to “reduce the nation’s dependence on petroleum and lower the production of greenhouse gases.” Rounds claimed that after only 24 months in operation, the four total original research centers including–but not limited to–CBRD reported a $40 million economic impact from a state investment of $5.4 million. Sure would like to see the breakdown of these claims and the extent to which we are or are not continuing to reap seven-fold benefits from such a modest investement.

    Another example was the 2013 North Dakota and South Dakota EPSCoR award of $6 million over three years to four universities–NDSU, SDSU, SDSMT, UND–to establish the Dakota Bioprocessing consortium, aka “DakotaBioCon” to “produce economically viable renewable replacements for existing petrochemicals,” although I am unaware of any economically viable renewable replacements for petrochemicals” that have been commercialized within this state by this consortium.

    The South Dakota focus was, in part, “processing lignin into renewable chemical and polymeric alternatives to petrochemicals.” So what was the economic impact to SD in terms of new and marketed end-products from lignin?

    DakotaBioCon also promised “to build *long-term* collaborations among the universities in North Dakota and South Dakota,” not that academics need SD monetary incentives to collaborate when federal grants exist. The center also promised “to develop *infrastructure* to study novel paths to produce high-value lignin-derived products.” No mention of whether these products would be economically feasible for mass-production as required for the market. Cutting-edge research was supposedly to make DakotaBioCon “a *recognized leader* in biomass bioprocessing.” Has this occurred and relative to what–academe elsewhere, existing federally funded government centers?

    But there was more: the “impacts of DakotaBioCon are *far-reaching*, and extend *beyond the award period*. Bioprocessing of renewable resources addresses strategic national security priorities by reducing national dependence on imported oil and creates new jobs.” Sounds great in principle. In practice, however, has this occurred?

    More outlandish claims came directly from the mouths of some of the investigators on local news. One individual claimed that pine slash from the Black Hills would be converted into bio-based ethanol for fuel. Well, (1) the Black Hills is a drop in the bucket when it comes to production of conifer waste in the United States, let alone in Canada, and (2) Ponderosa Pine is among the slowest growing plants in the nation for renewable cellulose. Brazil can and does grow some 3 crops of sugarcane bagasse and makes more sense than does even a single SD corn crop for bioethanol production, not to mention the outlandish mention of limited amounts of SD pine cellulose as a raw material.

    All the above promises constitute nice academic talk that sways people to give money to academics. What I don’t hear is our ag and forestry industries creating the demand for such an expenditure and how it would benefit them. SD typically tries to involve it public universities for the good of the state, understandably, but wouldn’t it be better to solicit proposals from all economic sectors of the state first to see what comes forward and is perceived need that couldn’t be elsewhere funded?

    My questions are not on the “potential” for a flurry of academic activity, activity that without question will result in all kinds of academic “paper”–publications, presentations, patents that go uncommercialized, academic intellectual interest–and student education which latter should already be occurring our of current budgets–but rather concern what the economic end-result will be to South Dakota for such a massive expenditure (over 3X that awarded by EPSCoR to FOUR universities in 2010). I say “expenditure” since I’ve not seen anything, including a proposal, that would convince us this is an “investment” in our interest.

    Ultimately, questions that need be asked and addressed include:

    1) What are these bio raw materials in this state aren’t already being exploited?
    2) Where is the demand from ag and the forestry industries to market these materials or are the markets more-or-less saturated?
    3) For unexploited and/or waste materials, how long will it actually take to develop such materials into commercially viable end-products?
    4) Who and where are the competing suppliers in the nation/globe for the necessary raw materials?
    5) Who and where are the competing markets in the nation/globe for the end-products?
    6) Presuming commercially-viable end-products can be developed, what is their market value and value to the State of South Dakota?
    7) Should the above questions be answered, where will the jobs be for the end-materials—in state or out?
    8) Is this $20 million for one year or will we see future requests needed to sustain the center?
    9) At a cost of $20 million one would think this would be a high-priority federal program rather than funded at the state level alone. Are/have federal monies been first solicited?

    I’ve little doubt that other relevant questions can also be asked.

    Academics of all people know full well how to spin all kinds of supposed relevancy and significance into proposals. But when it comes to actual pay-off, as one would expect in this particular kind of bill, the answer from academe is typically “we won’t know unless first awarded the money.” Given all the monies that have been awarded over time for bioprocessing–and the centers that have since folded since their inception–South Dakota needs look seriously at the history and results of prior funding through the lens of the above questions and ask similar questions regarding the current bill.

    John: Great examples.

    Donald Pay: Chemists have long exploited the potential of natural substances–fats and oils, starches, lignin, cellulose/hemicellulose–and all have been intensively investigated by various processing means–chemical transformations, fermentation, pyrolysis, various separation technologies–for value-added materials over the decades. There are few new things to discover here as the low-hanging fruit has long ago been picked. Whether there are materials in SD to be exploited seems the more pertinent question. An even more difficult question is whether or not any of these more esoteric materials and/or processes stand a chance for exploitation to be economically viable. As an extreme example, Dr. Randy Lewis of Utah State University/University of Wyoming has built a career on spider silk proteins and has milked–literally–genetically engineered goats for their milk which contains spider-silk protein. Novel? It was at one time. Realistic? The claim–one among many–is that spider silk milked from goats will be a replacement for tendons and ligaments. When? At what cost?

    Academicians can do wonderful things, but the point in this case is what can be done with the things academicians might do?

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