A risk we need to take

A risk we need to take
There were only a handful of South Dakota legislators Oct. 14 who voted against allocating $20 million of seed money for a 4,850-foot deep lab that could begin enticing scientists to the Black Hills as soon as 2007.

Some opponents of the idea argued that K-12 education isn't adequately funded now and that situation should be fixed before money is put into the lab.

"I think we need to get our priorities straight," said Democratic state Rep. Mike Kroger of Dell Rapids. He noted that the school district in Dell Rapids is facing several opt-outs of the state property tax limit.

We'll agree that the notion of sinking several million dollars into a big hole in the ground is an idea that could be difficult for many South Dakotans to swallow. We're a conservative people; for generations we've scrimped by, and when we've had excesses, we've tried to save it, not spend it � if we haven't stuffed cash into mattresses and other perceived safe places where it is in easy reach, we at least will consider putting it into a reserve fund or a bank account.

We are also proven risk-takers. Our ancestors traveled here with practically nothing but a promise from the federal government that they could own their own piece of Dakota ground if they would successfully homestead the plains.

Risk-taking built this state. That attitude will hopefully be successful in constructing the underground science facilities at Homestake, and eventually having them designated as a National Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory.

To be fair, we shouldn't be too critical of lawmakers who worry that not enough state funds are being allocated towards education. We share those sentiments, especially after learning of the various financial pitfalls being experienced by our school district in the months leading up to our recent successful opt-out election.

We hope the majority of South Dakotans will come to realize that this $20 million investment proposed by Gov. Mike Rounds may be key to reducing some of the financial pain experienced each year when the Legislature meets to hash out budget allocations for our schools.

Rounds noted that when people think about national research labs, they usually think of places like Oak Ridge, Brookhaven, Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore.

Brookhaven employs 3,000 people and has $436 million in annual spending with salaries and purchases.

The Lawrence Berkeley Lab hires 4,300 people, with annual spending of $480 million.

The Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico has 7,500 employees and $2.2 billion in annual spending.

Just imagine. If South Dakota could generate $300 million or $400 million in new payroll and spending annually, on top of attracting thousands of new people here, suddenly that $20 million investment we've just made seems like a paltry sum.

"The best thing about these labs," Gov. Rounds said, "is that they all have jobs and internships for students from high school age to the Ph.D. level, just like the Homestake Lab would have is we make it happen now."

Perhaps, once fully developed, the underground lab in Homestake will never be of the same scope of the Lawrence Berkeley or Los Alamos labs.

Rounds notes that three scientific research facilities in Boulder, CO, employ 1,800 people. In the last five years, these smaller facilities had a $2 billion impact on the Colorado economy. They've also led to the creation of 13 spin-off private companies that employ 450 people.

"Even if people want to dream smaller, we will still have a huge positive impact on the South Dakota economy, in job creation and for our students," Rounds said.

As we noted earlier, investing $20 million in essentially a giant hole is a gamble. But it's a risk we need to take.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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