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Dakota State sees cyber security as a potential engine for growth

The 2010 U.S. census put the population of Madison at 6,474 people. Among South Dakota communities, the city ranked No. 15, nestled between Sturgis and Belle Fourche.

Now the city’s leaders are betting that a project called MadLabs can shake up the order.

Tuesday marked Madison Day at the Capitol in Pierre. That afternoon, dozens of people stood witness, as some snapped photos and some of the others flanked Gov. Dennis Daugaard, as he sat down at the ceremonial desk first used by the state’s first governor.

Daugaard signed into law the legislation authorizing Dakota State University to demolish Lowry Hall and, in its place, construct the new Madison Cyber Labs.

The governor chose HB 1057 partly as a political symbol. MadLabs served as something of a statement, the first new law to be signed from the 2018 legislative session.

When he finished, Daugaard handed the pen to Jose-Marie Griffiths. She is Dakota State University president. He remarked to her that, this year, the first might be the best.

People at the university have repeatedly said the new center would be the first education facility in the region focusing on cyber security.

Donations are to pay for the building, planned for 40,000 square feet. The estimated cost is $18 million.

During a budget review that morning, Griffiths told legislators the university generated more people skilled in cyber security than there are jobs for them in South Dakota.

Her hope, Griffiths said, was MadLabs becomes an attractive hub for technology companies and those businesses hire people trained at Dakota State.

Madison’s roots go back to 1881. The first railroad train arrived, residents picked a village council and territorial representative C.B. Kennedy secured a charter for Madison Normal School to train teachers.

After U.S. President Benjamin Harrison signed statehood papers in 1889 creating South Dakota, the Madison campus went through several name changes. The Legislature agreed in 1969 to call it Dakota State College; in 1989, it became Dakota State University.

Among South Dakota’s six public universities, Dakota State had the smallest on-campus headcount last year, with 1,380 students. Northern State University at Aberdeen was the next smallest at 1,486.

South Dakota State University at Brooking was largest with 10,545.

Seeing at least some graduates leave South Dakota happens at every university in the state. Fifty-seven percent of Dakota State’s cyber-security graduates moved elsewhere because there aren’t enough jobs in the state, according to Griffiths.

She said the university wants to be known as a place for science, technology, engineering and mathematics rather than only computing.

Then-Gov. Bill Janklow expanded the mission at Dakota State during the early 1980s to emphasize courses in data and technology. 

Getting Madison ready now for a burst of growth is a challenge. Housing already is short at Dakota State, both on- and off-campus, Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, observed.

Griffiths said the university recently added student rooms by renovating what had been Madison’s old hospital.

Griffiths also said she has been working with business people to develop new housing.

“We’re looking at needs going forward,” she said.

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