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April 25, 2014

Energy Industry May Fuel Growth

With its location on an interstate, pleasant weather and business-friendly climate, economic development officials believe the Rushmore Region is in a prime spot to lure more energy-related industry, even if the oil and gas is in other states.

With its location on an interstate, pleasant weather and business-friendly climate, economic development officials believe the Rushmore Region is in a prime spot to lure more energy-related industry, even if the oil and gas is in other states.

But Ben Snow, president of Rapid City Economic Development Center, said at an energy conference Thursday said the region has another, less obvious but hugely important enticement for oil and gas companies: the fact half the city's population is female.

"Here's another advantage I love to give these guys (in North Dakota) a hard time about: We have a one-to-one ratio of male to females here," Snow said to a chorus of laughter at the ninth annual New Horizons Oil & Gas Conference, which was held Thursday afternoon at the Black Hills Learning Center. "We think that's a good thing."

It was intended as a joke, but it was also a part of Snow's overall argument that the quality of life in the Black Hills is superior to northwestern North Dakota and Montana, where much of the oil and gas resources are located.

Snow told a group of geologists and industry professionals that the area is primed to land more businesses or even corporate offices, even though it is not located in the heart of energy territory. Attendees included officials from Shell Oil and other large energy firms.

He said Rapid City will be using its natural and political resources to court energy businesses or businesses that service the oil industry, such as steel and plastic manufacturers to set up shop in the area. "We have opportunities in South Dakota and particularly in the Rushmore Region to make the sale to companies that are maybe too wimpy for the cold," Snow said. "For those companies who have to be right at ground zero, more power to them, but there's probably a slice of companies that don't have to be right there and will say 'if I can be right here, that's close enough.'"

The Rushmore Region is centrally located among three major energy production areas, specifically the Bakken oil fields in northwestern North Dakota, the Powder River Basin in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming, and the Denver-Julesburg producing basins. All are sites of major petroleum exploration resulting from new technologies.

The region is within 300 miles of all three, so companies can provide same-day service as needed, he said. Businesses in Rapid City are close enough to work with the major energy markets, but they won't have to deal with the challenges of living in a boom-town — such as paying $7 a gallon for milk. "We're close, but not too close," he said.

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology President Heather Wilson told the conference that the school adds to Rapid City's allure for energy companies. Wilson said the college is educating engineers here who can also play a lead role in the energy industry and will offer a new minor degree next year focused on oil and gas production.

Snow also unveiled the region's newest business marketing slogan with a picture of Mount Rushmore on it. Beneath the monument are the words, "face-to-face with freedom." Below those words it reads, "Conduct business with the freedom our founding fathers intended: less regulation, less red tape, less taxes, less trouble."
"The whole idea is to put a searchlight on the Rushmore Region of South Dakota," he said.

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