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Uncommon Innovation

December 9, 2011, 10:00 PM by Perry Groten

Uncommon Innovation
HOWARD, SD - A South Dakota community is tapping into its wind-swept past to blaze a trail toward a high-tech future.

The federal EPA has even taken notice, naming Maroney Commons as one of the greenest buildings in the country. These businesses built from recycled material have energized the small town of Howard.

The twirling windmill on Main Street in Howard is a symbolic landmark of how the community is putting a new spin on economic development in rural South Dakota.

"What I honestly see with this is evidence of there is a future," Rural Learning Center Interim President Kathy Callies said.

The Maroney Commons is an uncommon complex of businesses powered by wind, solar, photo cell and geo-thermal. Rainwater and snowmelt drain from the roof and get recycled in the restrooms. The building's embrace of green technology includes borrowing from Howard's past from ceiling to floor. The floor inside the Forecast Restaurant comes from the century-old gym at the Legion Hall that used to be located here.

"Heard great stories about the dances and events that were in the former Legion Hall and it just turned out beautifully as we reclaimed it and reused it," Callies said.

Parts of the ceiling come from the old football grandstand at Northern State University in Aberdeen.

"Northern State said that if you come and get the materials, you can have them to reuse," Callies said.

Part of the roof of the Windward Inn are made from 1000 bushel grain bins. Step inside one of the 24 hotel rooms and you'll find computer desks made from the stage of the old Legion Hall.

"People love that combination of old while they sit here and do their technology, something 100-years-old right under your elbow," Callies said.

This mix of technology and history is drawing more visitors to Howard. The Windward Inn has conference rooms where people can train for any number of fields, from health care to teaching to wind turbines.

"This is some of the technology for the wind energy training. We had the federal department of labor here a couple of weeks ago training technicians for the wind industry," Callies said.

With all the technology available in Howard, people no longer have to go to big cities to advance their careers.

"As we recruit young people back home to do work that they're doing, they're so important to our rural places and they know it," Callies said.

Energy bills are cut in half because of all the renewable features inside this building. That's in keeping with the farming philosophy that nothing should go to waste.

"The pioneers that settled in this place understand renew, reuse and we're just really bringing back that spirit of don't throw it away if it has value, just pay attention to the resources that you have, Callies said.

This month, Maroney Commons became just one of five projects nationwide recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency for their green designs that foster business growth.

"The excitement is that this is the first awarded to a rural community ever in the country. And here it is in the heart of South Dakota. And what it does is to spotlight the abilities that we have in South Dakota," Callies said.

So many small towns struggle to keep jobs. But by going green, the Maroney Commons could become a high-tech hub that employs a strategy of recycling to revitalize the rural economy.

Maroney Commons held its grand-opening in August and is already looking to expand. A fitness center is opening up, with future projects to include adding more meeting space.

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