Infrastructure, innovation key to growing future workforce

by Sara J. Gillis, Director of Talent & Workforce Development
Published 11/21/2019

One concept that’s central to workforce development today? Technological innovation.

In order to position the city of Sioux Falls, and the state of South Dakota, as a regional powerhouse of business excellence, investment in infrastructure that allows our city to grow its technology footprint is vital. And thanks to the great work of many in and outside of Sioux Falls, advances in innovation, including technology infrastructure and research/development facilities, will work in tandem with city, state, and federal organizations and stakeholders to attract a talented, technically skilled future workforce home to South Dakota.


5G network to go live in Sioux Falls, one of first 20 cities with infrastructure

One of the most recent innovations within the city limits of Sioux Falls includes the move to 5G, announced in early November at a joint press conference featuring Mayor Paul TenHaken of Sioux Falls, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, and Executive Vice President Craig Silliman of Verizon Wireless. According to Mayor TenHaken, this landmark achievement places Sioux Falls in the mix as one of a mere 20 cities to go live with such an advanced network. At least 10 5G towers are planned to be live in downtown Sioux Falls by the end of November, according to Verizon.

“Today’s a huge day in the history of our city. We’ve been working on this for about 18 months and to be one of the first twenty cities in the country to have a live and active 5G network is going to mean a lot for this city on innovation, on workforce development, business development and moving our city forward progressively in a technological fashion,” Mayor TenHaken said.

And according to Mayor TenHaken, technology startups are already starting to see potential in Sioux Falls.

"In the past week I've actually had the chance to talk to a handful of Silicon Valley and Seattle tech companies," TenHaken said last week at a news conference. "Quite honestly, they're sick of the West Coast rat race. Sioux Falls is starting to show up on their maps."

One consensus that’s widely held across the business community is that the 5G network infrastructure is crucial in allowing current businesses to continue to manufacture quality products, to grow their market share, and to expand their businesses.

MarketBeat, a Sioux Falls-based financial technology and publishing company, echoes the importance of infrastructural advances in driving business growth and workforce development.

“Advances in our state's technical infrastructure are critical to attract and retain technology startups and businesses like MarketBeat in South Dakota,” said MarketBeat Founder Matt Paulson. “A successful ecosystem will have the right mix of digital infrastructure, talent, training opportunities and companies working together to launch and grow technology companies in the state. Our governor has expressed a commitment to attracting a new big industry to the state of South Dakota. Having an advanced technology infrastructure and technology university programs will help make South Dakota look more attractive to a large technology business that could become the anchor company for a new technology boom in our state.”


Higher ed programs, R&D facilities also attracting potential businesses, employees

Like all other technology advances, the 5G network is only as innovative as the people who use it, and in the case of South Dakota, two educational institutions are at the forefront of training and equipping the technically-skilled workforce of tomorrow.

First, in partnership with telecommunications provider VIKOR, Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls will accept its first cohort of 15 students into the new Wireless Infrastructure Technician Certification program in January 2020. According to a news release about the certificate program, VIKOR, one of the state’s leading providers in wireless infrastructure, saw a growing need for more skilled technicians in the telecommunications industry in order to satisfy demand as technology expands, like the move to 5G. As a result, the company enlisted Southeast Tech to anticipate this critical need.

“This new Wireless Infrastructure Technician certificate is a great example of higher education and private industry partnering to help meet the skilled labor shortage that limits future growth, in this case, the expansion of 5G wireless technology,” said Southeast Technical Institute President Bob Griggs.

According to MarketBeat’s Paulson, investing in education to support such infrastructure is vital for South Dakota to differentiate itself from other states in the race to bring new technology to America.

“5G will enable a significantly higher density of connected devices and will have implications for technologies like self-driving cars and automated drones,” Paulson said. “If South Dakota wants to play a role in those industries, we will need 5G in high-density areas like downtown Sioux Falls and Rapid City.”

The move to 5G in Sioux Falls is certainly putting South Dakota on the map for business innovation, but other educational institutes are also equipping our region’s future technical workforce while simultaneously expanding a new potential workforce: remote employees.

Dakota State University in Madison, led by the vision of DSU President Dr. Jose-Marie Griffiths, has long offered programs to educate students in cutting-edge, high-needs industries such as cybersecurity, data analytics and computer programming. What’s particularly innovative, though, are DSU’s “Mad Labs” facilities, which include research spaces that are open to students as well as more secured, classified laboratories in which proprietary research is conducted, are state-of-the-art laboratories that mark only the beginning of what remote work opportunities could look like in the years to come.

While DSU already has strong ties with government agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA), which has contracted for classified space in the Cyclops Lab space, Griffiths hopes to expand the opportunity for additional government partnerships and federal contracts by accrediting the Mad Labs facility, a process that’s already begun on campus.

“Every academic institution in the country is chasing cyber,” Griffiths said. “But we had two things going for us: A strong foundation of cybersecurity, and we went into cyber in a number of areas, and that gives us strength. Our first priority is to fill the Cyclops Lab here. It’s close by, and the agencies want a relationship with the institution. And it gives us that credibility.”

The potential economic impact of such a facility in South Dakota is only limited by the physical space available in the laboratory; Griffiths is already fielding inquiries from businesses with a need for cybersecurity services, and the people capable of performing them are beginning to look at locating in the area. Relocation to South Dakota could signal further economic growth in the state, as these workers will invest in real estate, purchase commodities, and engage in their communities. This potential new workforce echoes what’s happening nationwide, especially due to the rise of the gig economy: the workforce is shifting away from the traditional terms of standard employment toward more flexible working conditions, a change that some researchers forecast will amount to nearly 50 percent of the workforce working remotely or contractually in the years to come.

Back in South Dakota, the Cyclops Lab is only the tipping point of what’s possible, Griffiths says, as the state continues to assert its prowess in cybersecurity.

“The Cyclops Lab is really a way for us to try and keep some of our graduates in South Dakota, attract some of our graduates back, and attract people who want to come live and work here and have meaningful work they can do for federal agencies,” Griffiths said. “There’s tremendous potential.”