SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — If you have an idea for a new business that incorporates technology in Aberdeen can you get venture capital investors?
Doubtful since, according to the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration, as of 2017 less than 1% of all venture capital went to rural areas.
But, CORI and Land O’ Lakes want to increase the odds with a new project launched in Aberdeen called the American Connection Community. It’s a cooperative between CORI, a non-profit entity focused on the development of the economy of rural America and Land O-Lakes, a $14 billion agriculture cooperative and local partners.
The project will help the community create an innovation hub in partnership with Northern State University, train local residents for digital and technology jobs and access state and federal funding.
It’s the first American Connection Community project and if successful, it would lead to other similar projects in rural areas, representatives said.
The project could help a significant other land a job in Aberdeen or it could mean that an existing business finds more employees trained in needed digital skills.
“Are we going to be the next Silicon Valley. No, that (isn’t) the goal,” said Mike Bockorny, the chief executive officer of the Aberdeen Development Corporation. “But we can be supportive of places like that.”
A new business or expanded Aberdeen business could provide resources for larger companies such as those in the Silicon Valley, he said.
The city of about 28,000 people has had the longtime nickname of “Hub City.” In effect, the American Connection Community project could create a type of technology or digital hub in the city.
Before the American Connection Community project was launched last week, officials did some research, Bockorny said.
One thing they learned was that there were more technology-related jobs in Aberdeen than they originally thought, Bockorny said.
Some of those jobs may be in agriculture, said Chris Pearson, the chief executive officer of Agtegra in Aberdeen, a cooperative partner with Land O’ Lakes.
The project could potentially help farmers with needed new digital skills but also help the overall community, Pearson said.
“I think we need to think about the role of technology for our farms and for our communities,” Pearson said.
Farmers and ranchers need and want, a strong, vibrant community, Pearson said. Strong communities are key to the supply chain but also to farmers being able to stay and live on their farms, he said.
“Part of our job is to maintain the health and vitality of rural America,” said Tina May, vice with Land O’Lakes.
CORI and Land O’ Lakes have long been aware that rural communities are worth of capital investment, representatives. A positive sign is that investment in rural America has increased some since the less than 1% in 2017, said CORI Founder and Executive Director Matt Dunne.
“People are starting to get the message that extraordinary innovation and ideas can be in rural places. We just need to accelerate it,” Dunne said. “This the kind of project and the kind of partner to help bring that information to light.”
“We just needed to lift it up and shine a spotlight on it, And that’s what we are doing with this project…,” May said.
Dunne said building a stronger economy in Aberdeen is not just about establishing an investment fund and then hoping or just starting computer science and coding training and think those are going to solve problems.
“You need bring all the pieces together,” Dunne said. The connections need to happen between educators, employers and other partners, he said.
Aberdeen was selected because of the Agtegra cooperative’s mission, the availability of broadband connectivity, the presence of a university and the community’s willingness to pursue the project and investments it’s making in its economy, Dunne said.
Buckorny said the planning process has been collaborative. “What CORI is really good at is they don’t lead or push in any one direction,” he said. CORI is aware that the community needs to help determine what will work, Buckorny said.