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Dakota State University spearheads a $90 million initiative to enhance cybersecurity research in South Dakota

According to the school, the initiative supports national security and defense, offers workforce and economic development opportunities, and establishes South Dakota as a cyber state – and it will draw people to the area instead of having them go elsewhere for their livelihoods.

DSU Cyberlabs
A rendering of Dakota State University’s Applied Research Lab, a specialized facility to be built in Sioux Falls. The center will tentatively open in 2025.
Image: Courtesy of JLG Architects
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MADISON, S.D. • Dakota State University wants to increase cybersecurity research in the Mount Rushmore State, attract cybersecurity experts to the area, and entice those who work and graduate in South Dakota to stay long term.

It’s a big task, but one that school president José-Marie Griffiths is confident can be met with the help of a $90 million initiative that includes a private-public partnership between the university, the city of Sioux Falls and the state of South Dakota.

Griffiths calls the initiative both a challenge and an opportunity, the latter because it will expand its cyber-research abilities in Madison and, as part of that expansion, because it calls for a new research center in Sioux Falls that would create hundreds of new jobs in the community. As such, she envisions Sioux would one day become a major technological center.

The future center, which will open in 2025 and create between 400-500 jobs, will be built on up to 16 acres donated by Sanford Health at the Sanford Sports Complex. It will be owned by the state by way of the Board of Regents and the school.

Beacom Institute at DSU
Dakota State University professor Dr. Mike Ham, right, teaches a networking class in the Beacom Institute of Technology.
Image: Courtesy of Dakota State University

Griffiths said when the school first opened its Madison Cyber Labs in 2019 there was “a tremendous amount of interest,” but the hangup even now is that graduates are attracted elsewhere for quality work and wages.


“We were losing those students to the coasts, in effect, or to the national labs,” she said. “But we want to keep some of them here.”

Griffiths said the initiative supports national security and defense, offers workforce and economic development opportunities, and establishes South Dakota as a cyber state – and it will draw people to the area instead of having them go elsewhere for their livelihoods.

“We started to have discussions about what if we actually had another facility, and what if we grew our capacity to graduate students in that sort of high-end, cybersecurity arena. Then we could seed a cyber-research industry here in South Dakota,” she said.

The plan calls for doubling the number of graduates of The Beacom Institute of Technology in Madison, from 200 to 400 annually by recruiting and retaining faculty, students and staff. This also would create additional jobs.

“The students who we attracted here, for the most part, want to stay because of the lifestyle. Some want to go away and experience the big city or something else, but many of those also want to come back when they want to start a family. So part of the rationale here is, one, we as an institution needed to conduct research in order to maintain our lead in cybersecurity education and research. Second, South Dakota wants to keep more of the graduates that we generate in South Dakota. … Those goals have now come together in this plan for an expansion of our Madison applied research lab into Sioux Falls.”

DSU Madison Cyber Labs
Dakota State University’s Madison Cyber Labs opened in 2019.
Image: Courtesy of Dakota State University

A further view of the partnerships and plan look like this:

Money will come from several partners, including T. Denny Sanford, who has donated $50 million over five years to construct the expanded applied research lab in Sioux Falls. Another $30 million comes from the state of South Dakota, proposed by Gov. Kristi Noem in this fiscal year’s budget request; $10 million from the city of Sioux Falls to create the physical, organizational, and programmatic infrastructure needed for the new center; and $250,000 from Forward Sioux Falls for planning a Cyber/IT Park in Sioux Falls.

“We talk about creating a cyber-research industry, or supporting the cyber-research industry in South Dakota, but in a way we're really creating a cyber-innovation path in this part of South Dakota between Madison and Sioux Falls,” Griffiths said.


“We’re really creating this cyber-innovation hub, and our intent with that is … having the collection of expertise in South Dakota will attract others to come and locate here.”

Andrew Weeks is an award-winning journalist who has reported for a number of newspapers and magazines. He currently is the editor of Prairie Business, the premier business magazine of the northern plains. The magazine covers various industries and business topics in the Dakotas and western Minnesota.
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