News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Caterpillar crawls into the Hills

Bob Mercer was about the first news person in South Dakota to note that Caterpillar, Inc., will have an engineering and design center up and running in Rapid City by October.  This is probably some of the most important news for the state since the National Science Foundation selected the Homestake Goldmine for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory.

The story is still breaking on the South Dakota media, although I received notice of the press release from Caterpillar late yesterday from a journalism organization I belong to that sends out daily summaries of breaking stories.

None of the stories I read in either the national or state media went beyond the press release, although the Rapid City Journal did, apparently, interview the president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology who made some comments promoting his institution, claiming that an alumnus who works for Caterpillar was involved in the decision to create the Black Hills Engineering Design Center.  The press release makes note of Rapid City's diversity of resources as a reason for situation the Center there, and the educators suggest that the attraction is that the company can tap directly into SDSM&T  graduates to fill the staff for the facility.  The problem with that explanation is that the research and development organizations, both corporate and government-sponsored, rely on talent from many institutions and geographical backgrounds for the critical development of products and services.  Caterpillar has two other engineering design centers.  One is in India, reflecting Caterpillar's place in the global market.  The other is in Champaign, Ill., the site of the huge University of Illinois campus, and about 90 miles form Caterpillar's corporate headquarters in Peoria. 

If Caterpillar hopes to attract major talent for its research and development projects, it may have its eyes on the people that will be coming in to work with the DUSEL facility, now called the Sanford Underground Laboratory.  The Black Hills have long been noted as being a nice landscape and geographical environment in which to work, but the limited culture and intellectual climate has been discouraging.  The prospect of the DUSEL and the people it will attract has changed that. 

Within recent weeks, Caterpillar has also expanded its interests in mining with a new venture centered on that activity in North Carolina, and with the expansion of its underground imaging technologies, with the acquisition of a company in that field.

Those rapidly developing fields of science and engineering may well make the Black Hills their center.  It's like rocket science.  Only more difficult. 


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States