Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

State to hire consultant for feasibility study of meatpacking projects in South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. — The Governor’s Office of Economic Development wants more information for judging potential meatpacking projects and is willing to spend up to $100,000 for an outside consultant’s advice.

GOED’s finance director, Travis Dovre, discussed the feasibility study last week with the state Board of Economic Development.

The goal, according to Dovre, is to better answer the question of whether small facilities can work, whether for beef, pork or both. “We’ve seen these projects come and go in our history of economic development,” he said.

Jeff Erickson, a Sioux Falls banker who chairs the board, said state government has a value-added fund and GOED’s staff wants to get the financier’s point of view.

“Hopefully this will be a new perspective for us to gain as a board,” Erickson said. “So we can for, lack of a better term, differentiate between fact and fiction.”

GOED issued a request for the consulting proposals on August 10. The timetable calls for written submissions no later than September 8. The decision on selecting a consultant would come no sooner than October 11.

South Dakota state government became deeply snarled in efforts to open a beef plant in Aberdeen that began during the mid-2000s, when U.S. Senator Mike Rounds served as governor and Richard Benda was state commissioner of tourism and development.

Foreign investors from China and North Korea put money into the project, known as Northern Beef Packers, through the federal EB-5 program that provides a fast-track to U.S. citizenship for foreign investors. Some of them later sued.

The company filed for bankruptcy, Benda died in 2013 by what was officially ruled a shotgun suicide, and Joop Bollen of Aberdeen in 2016 pleaded guilty to a Class 6 felony for his role and was sentenced to two years of probation and a fine.

The failed plant and subsequent lawsuits cost South Dakota taxpayers millions of dollars.

The resurrected plant, operating since 2015 as DemKota Ranch Beef, has yet to reach its processing capacity of 1,500 head per day / five days per week.

In related news, initial plans announced in 2022 to build a $1.1 billion meatpacking facility in Rapid City, South Dakota fell through amid claims by the City of Rapid City of a lack of transparency by the developers, Western Legacy Developers Corporation and its president Megan Kingsbury.

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