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State, Feds Spend Money to Boost Creative Infrastructure in Rapid City

South Dakota Republicans have played a lot of word games to prevent President Joe Biden from investing in any infrastructure beyond plain old roads and bridges. Senator John Thune, for instance, has made it sound like spending money on childcare, daycare, and community colleges isn’t really infrastructure spending.

But spending state and federal money on a fancy incubator “ecosystem” for entrepreneurs (and naming it after a revered local Republican) is apparently a perfectly reasonable infrastructure investment:

Elevate recently celebrated the grand opening of the David Lust Accelerator Building in downtown Rapid City. The building is named after the attorney and former lawmaker who unexpectedly died in July. Lust played a key role in developing Elevate and the new incubator building.

“If you build the infrastructure for these entrepreneurs they will stay,” [Elevate CEO Tom]  Johnson said. “But there’s all these wraparound services that we provide entrepreneurs that we can give them access to as well. So it’s an ecosystem, if you will, of providers and services that Elevate can access and we make sure that anybody that’s in that incubator — or even if you’re not in the incubator, if you’re just in Rapid City and you need help — we’ll help find it for you.”

…Elevate, South Dakota and the federal government contributed a combined $15 million for the building. Rapid City donated 4.3 acres of land that Elevate hopes to fill with other buildings. The plan is to create a tech startup campus.

“[W]e’re starting to see a lot more people interested in coming to Rapid City. So we needed that infrastructure because if they got here and they didn’t have facilities like this, they might go somewhere else” [Arielle Zionts, “Rapid City Startup Campus Wants to Reverse South Dakota’s Brain Drain,” SDPB Radio, 2021.11.01].

The Lust Building certainly isn’t just plain old steel and concrete. The aesthetics of the place are as essential to its infrastructural purpose as the rebar and rafters:

The silver building has stainless steel panels that shimmer like fish scales. The panels change between purple, blue and other cool colors as they reflect the sunlight.

“They wanted a building that had a ‘wow factor’ to it,” said architect Peter Tan. “Not just an ordinary building, a building that inspires people to creativity, inspires people to come up with good ideas. So a building that did that but also a building that was truly Rapid City, that was unique to Rapid City, that took some of the most unique things about Rapid City, that’s hyper local as well.”

Meeting rooms have wallpaper of the Badlands and kaleidoscope-like patterns of agate rocks. A mural and sunshades are decorated with a topographic map of the city [Zionts, 2021.11.01].

All that creative inspiration is infrastructure, supporting South Dakota’s economic development as surely as roads, bridges, river locks, and affordable child care. The next time John Thune tries telling you the things President Biden wants to spend money on aren’t infrastructure, send him to gaze at architect Tan’s work in Rapid City and see if Senator Thune can be inspired to broaden his definition of infrastructure.


  1. ds 2021-11-02 21:54

    No mention of solar panels and battery bank to store power, or passive solar panels to provide heat and hot water, or extra insulation to meet the LEED building certification. Oh, wait… the South Dakota State Legislature banned all construction adhering to the LEED standards. Anyway, natural gas is soo cheap so why bother?

  2. Donald Pay 2021-11-03 09:36

    I hope the thrust of the program is for entrepreneurs, not the usual Rapid City/Pierre Republican grifters. The grifters, of course, claimed the front floor space, which makes me think this is just another federal funded gift for the elite. It looks a bit too beautiful for the gritty young entrepreneurs I am familiar with.

  3. Cathy B 2021-11-03 19:06

    Do “all these wraparound services” include health coverage? That’s something you need when you start out, unless you are covered on your spouse’s insurance. I’ve met a couple people trying to start businesses – doing this good thing that the Elevate people and Sen.Thune say we need, but they said it’s more scary without health coverage. They say Medicaid expansion sure would help. Who knows how many others would like to give a business idea a start and just might do so, if our state would show them the respect and help of Medicaid expansion?

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