A state-of-the-art medical school building is taking form on The University of South Dakota campus, thanks in part to Johnson's effort to secure needed federal dollars for the project.
Vermillion citizens are pitching in themselves to revitalize downtown with the construction of a new city hall building.
Johnson is proud of the role he has played by helping to fund a streetscape revitalization project in the historic Main Street shopping district of his hometown.
It's the meeting of old friends, however, that he appreciates the most when he travels back to Vermillion. He had a good reason to return his old stomping grounds Friday after being invited by the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce of Commerce and Development Company to give brief opening remarks at the organization's annual banquet, held at the Eagles.
"It's wonderful to be back to see old friends," Johnson said, shortly before the start of Friday's festivities. "Barbara and I are looking forward to the evening."
Later that night, he told the banquet audience that he plans to use his seniority on the Senate Appropriations Committee to benefit not only Vermillion, but the entire state.
"From Streetscape to the (Newcastle-Vermillion) Bridge, each federally funded project has made a contribution to the high quality of life here in Vermillion," Johnson said.
The senator currently is focusing his efforts on the Lewis & Clark Water Project. President Bush recently zeroed out all funding for the project in the latest federal budget he has submitted to Congress.
"Lewis & Clark received $26.5 million in funding last year. It needs $30 million or more. It's going to be tough, but I will fight for the funding," Johnson said, adding that his South Dakota colleagues on Capitol Hill, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Sen. John Thune, are also committed to securing dollars for the project.
Water from the Lewis & Clark project goes to several communities in the region, most notably Sioux Falls.
"It's critical that we get water to these communities," he said, "for the continued economic growth in southeast South Dakota, northwest Iowa, and southwest Minnesota.
"The Sioux Falls area is booming," Johnson said. "The only thing that's holding the area back is the potential shortage of water."
Johnson noted that the president has proposed drastic cuts to key economic development programs, including Community Development Block Grants, the Economic Development Administration, and USDA Rural Development in fiscal year 2009.
He noted that a key to economic progress is cooperation on the part of federal, state and local governments.
Besides the new medical school and Newcastle-Vermillion Bridge, such cooperation has made the Spirit Mound project, the local business incubator and day care development possible in Vermillion.
Johnson will seek another term in the Senate in the November general election. A major theme of this campaign, he said, will be employment development in South Dakota.
"With good jobs, everything else takes care of itself," he said. "Without good jobs, there is no end to the needs that people have."
Johnson is also paying attention to the presidential races. He believes either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton can provide strong leadership in the White House, and he favors Obama.
Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican nominee, is more experienced than Obama, the senator noted.
"But Obama has more charisma and excitement about him, and can be an agent of change," Johnson said.