PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Representatives have given final approval to building a research laboratory in Sioux Falls where Dakota State University would host businesses who want to hire students from an expanded cyber-training program.

The $50 million center that SB 130 authorizes would be built through donations. The House voted 56-9 for it. The $30 million of state general funds authorized by SB 54 would provide five years of money for hiring faculty, adding students and opening an academy to serve high schools statewide. The House backed that piece 60-8.

“Mark my words, this project will be the next Citibank for South Dakota. It’s that important,” Representative Mark Willadsen, R-Sioux Falls, said.

Representative Taffy Howard, R-Rapid City, warned that approving the lab would go beyond what she described as a university’s proper role. “Our universities are not supposed to be in the business of running businesses, and that’s what this is,” Howard said. She said the largest donor, T. Denny Sanford, could do this on his own.

Representative Drew Dennert, R-Aberdeen, wondered why this would be in Sioux Falls, rather than on Dakota State’s campus in Madison. Representative Randy Gross, R-Elkton, said there would be free land in Sioux Falls and that South Dakota’s largest city, with a population of more than 200,000, is a transportation center.

“I can’t imagine what it would take to get (businesses) to come to Madison,” Gross said about that city’s population of some 7,500. Dennert said he supported the Sioux Falls center but his “only heartburn” was that a smaller community should be considered for a future project.

Representative Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls, said she worked at Citibank in 1984 when the banking giant struggled because technology-trained people wouldn’t move to South Dakota. Dakota State’s focus was shifted to technology to fill the need. “It was one of the most successful changes I’ve ever seen,” Duba said.