They didn't scoop up ore of the 24-karat variety, however. They tossed freshly-picks kernels of corn, that earlier that day had been piled into a long row on the USD DakotaDome floor, into the air.
The ceremony marks the beginning of a major economic development project in Clay County hailed to have a long-term positive affect for citizens who make their living by growing corn and feeding livestock.
Soon, heavy equipment will start moving dirt at the site of a new ethanol plant that will be constructed by Glacial Lakes Energy (GLE), a South Dakota cooperative.
"Next Monday, if you drive by the plant site, you will see very large earth scrapers and Caterpillar bulldozers," said Tom Branhan, CEO of GLE, who served as master of ceremonies for Thursday's groundbreaking event. "We will be moving the black dirt, we will have trailers set up by the end of the week and the construction crew will be on site."
the construction crew will be on site. The plant will be under full construction and we will be pouring concrete through the winter, and we plan to start this plant up before the end of 2007, which is a phenomenal feat. We will make every effort we can to do it.�
Behind the podium where Branhan was speaking sat some of the most powerful individuals in the state, including Gov. Mike Rounds, Sen. Tim Johnson, Sen. John Thune and Mark Gerhart, a staff member of Rep. Stephanie Herseth.
The efforts of individuals involved with GLE and Missouri Valley Renewable Energy (MVRE) helped make the new ethanol plant, which will be located along Highway 50 near Meckling, a reality. Last summer, MVRE and GLE merged with the Watertown-based GLE to form a leading ethanol cooperative in South Dakota.
Governor Rounds said that by the end of 2008, South Dakota will be producing over 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol annually. �All of the unleaded fuel that we burn today in South Dakota only amounts to about 435 million gallons,� Rounds said. �We�re moving in the right direction. We�re seeing ethanol production facilities being built by you, by people who see the opportunity to take a commodity product in corn, and to turn it to a value-added product. What a marvelous win-win opportunity for you, and for all of the people of South Dakota.�
The minimum investment requirement in South Dak-ota�s latest ethanol opportunity was $10,000. Those who chose to take advantage of the opportunity could purchase equity in a new 100 million gallon per year (mgy) plant in Aberdeen, the expansion of GLE in Watertown to 100 mgy, or the new 50 mgy plant near Vermillion.
GLE officially closed their equity offering on Aug. 29, raising $95 million during their three-day investment meeting run.
�I think this is going to be an extraordinary step in the right direction for not only this region but also for all of South Dakota,� said Sen. Tim Johnson.
�We have 11 ethanol plants, three more on the way, another huge wind farm coming up in South Dakota,� the senator said, �and I think what we are going to see are more income, more opportunities, more jobs, including smaller towns in South Dakota, as we become a major source of energy, be it from ethanol, bio-diesel or wind energy.�
Johnson praised GLE�s focus on its efforts to offer investment opportunities to state residents after it revealed its plans for the new industries. �Of some 3,700 investors, 3,500 are from South Dakota,� he said.
Gerhart read written comments from Herseth at Thursday�s event.
�South Dakota is taking another significant step towards solidifying its stature in renewable fuels production,� Herseth stated in her letter. �This is a development that�s good for farmers in South Dakota, good for consumers and good for the nation.
Thune said the energy bill crafted last year with the help of all three members of South Dakota�s congressional delegation put in place for the first time ever, as a matter of law, a renewable fuels standard that guarantees a market for ethanol.
�What that tells me,� he added, �is that across this country, people from other parts of the United States are realizing how important it is that we begin to shift to renewable energy and to bio-energy.�