Seth Tupper

Business and Economic Development Beat

Seth Tupper is SDPB’s business and economic development reporter. He is based at SDPB’s Black Hills Studio in Rapid City.

Raised in Wessington Springs and Kimball, and a graduate of Kimball High School, Tupper earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from South Dakota State University.

He most recently reported for the Rapid City Journal, where he spent five years covering politics, Black Hills-based natural-resource management, county government and numerous other topics. Prior to his tenure at the Journal, Tupper worked for The Daily Republic in Mitchell and The Daily Globe in Worthington, MN.

Tupper wrote the 2017 book Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills (Arcadia Publishing), about the president’s eventful three-month stay in 1927.


New research suggests that smart mitigation policies, including targeted shutdowns, could slow COVID-19 infections while limiting economic pain.

Fabrizio Perri, an economics researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, says the policies could even work in hotspots such as South Dakota.

One of America's governors most skeptical about COVID-19 has been South Dakota's Kristi Noem. She's loudly refused to impose any shutdowns or a statewide mask mandate.

Noem's devotion to keeping her state open has made her a celebrity in the Republican Party.

She campaigned for President Trump in 17 states, and touted her own record along the way.

"What I did in South Dakota is what we say Republicans always believe," Noem says. "We just did it. We just did it, and look at what is happening in our state."

State of Vermont

South Dakota’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic has produced contrasting results: one of the nation’s best economic recoveries, and one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Governor Kristi Noem’s rejection of statewide shelter-in-place orders, business shutdowns and mask mandates has made her a celebrity in the Republican Party. She campaigned for President Trump in 17 states and touted her own record last month in Maine and New Hampshire. 

Courtesy Black Hills Corp.

Black Hills Corporation is setting new goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. 


Seth Tupper / SDPB

Lawrence County commissioners unanimously rejected a permit Tuesday for a gold mine near the rim of Spearfish Canyon.

Commissioner Brandon Flanagan said there are too many unknowns with the project, and although he supports mining, he could not approve the application.

“Normally, we get conditional-use permits and a lot of the detail is in there, as they’re supposed to be," Flanagan said. "In this one it’s a lot of just, ‘Permit what we’ve already got, and we’ll figure out the rest as we go.’ I’ve got a problem with that on a lot of levels.”

SD GOP Facebook

Public Utilities Commissioner Gary Hanson delivered a surprisingly fiery speech during an Election Night watch party on the Facebook page of the South Dakota Republicans.

But the speech was not about Hanson's re-election to a fourth term on the state commission.

“This is not going to be a typical election speech,” Hanson said, “because I’m amazed at the sometime insane positions that socialists have taken. I don’t want to throw a lot of bricks or rocks or anything, but I am going to be provocative.”

Wolakota Buffalo Range

The first hooves have hit the ground at a new buffalo range that could eventually host the world’s largest Native American-owned herd.

Wizipan Little Elk, the CEO of the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation, said there’s a deep meaning underlying the project and its Lakota-language name.

“Our project is called ‘Wolakota.’ And what that means in our language is to live the Lakota way of life,” Little Elk said. “Our identity is linked to the health and welfare and well-being of buffalo, and when they’re strong, we’re going to be strong again as well.”

Michael Zimny / SDPB

Parts of northwest South Dakota look much the same today as they did hundreds of years ago, with breathtaking expanses of grass, plains, buttes and sky.

Within just four counties in South Dakota’s northwest corner, there are nearly 9,000 square miles of virgin sod.

Globally, however, about a fifth of the world’s native grasslands have been converted to crops.

That’s troubling for people like Pete Bauman.


The saga of a failed natural-gas project is ending with a contractor plugging the wells at taxpayer expense.

The project started about 15 years ago. A Texas company called Spyglass Cedar Creek came to South Dakota. The company drilled 40 wells in the northwest corner of the state, near Buffalo.

Within a few years, the company fell into financial ruin. It suffered falling gas prices, a lender's bankruptcy and a business partner's tax-fraud indictment.

Seth Tupper / SDPB

A divided advisory board on Wednesday rejected Forest Service research calling for less logging in the Black Hills National Forest and instead recommended more logging.

Black Hills National Forest

Forest Service researchers spent the last several years studying the amount of timber in the Black Hills, and they concluded that logging should be reduced.

They said the sustainable annual range is a harvest of 70,000 to 115,000 CCF. One “CCF” is 100 cubic feet, which is a little less than a cord of firewood stacked 8 feet high, 4 feet long and 4 feet wide.

Seth Tupper / SDPB

Soaring gold prices are fueling a rush for the next big discovery in the Black Hills, but gold miners and prospectors are encountering opposition.

One reason for the surging prices is the down economy. Some people see gold as a safe investment, so they scramble to buy it in times of economic uncertainty. That sends the price higher.

In August, the price hit $2,000 an ounce for the first time ever.

That’s motivated some investors to do more than just buy gold. Some are also investing in the search for places to mine it.

Sioux Falls Development Foundation

Amazon is buying land in Sioux Falls, but the company is not saying exactly what it plans to do.

The company purchased 80 acres from the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, according to Bob Mundt, the foundation's president and CEO. The land is northwest of the I-29 and I-90 junction, along Marion Road.

Neither the foundation nor Amazon disclosed the purchase price. The public record of the sale is not yet available at the county courthouse.

Mundt said, “We’re excited to make the sale, and we’re anxious to see what it is that they build there.”

Air Force

Air Force bases in South Dakota and Texas are in a competition to host the first B-21 Raiders when the new stealth bomber planes are ready to fly.

The Air Force is doing an environmental assessment at both bases. Virtual public hearings began Tuesday.

The first hearing was for Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. Doug Peters is president and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce. He took a couple of swipes at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

South Dakota businesses and nonprofits that have been hurt by the pandemic have a short time to apply for their share of $450 million in government grants.

Congress passed the CARES Act pandemic relief bill in March, and state government got $1.25 billion.

About half of the money went unspent through the spring and summer. Ian Fury, spokesman for Gov. Kristi Noem, said there were reasons for that.

Walworth County Sheriff's Office/Facebook

Inmates sued last month to close the Walworth County Jail in Selby, and now the county commissioners are closing it.

Commissioners approved a motion Tuesday to close the jail and transfer all the inmates to other area jails within 30 days.

Experts told county officials in recent years that the 111-year-old jail is outdated and unsafe, but county officials had kept the jail open.

Attorney Jim Leach of Rapid City represents the seven inmates who sued the county.


Millions of dollars are at stake in a lawsuit pitting rival South Dakota telecommunications cooperatives against each other.

The plaintiff is Venture Communications in Highmore. The cooperative serves parts of central and eastern South Dakota.

Its territory overlaps with James Valley Telecommunications in Groton, and James Valley’s subsidiary, Northern Valley Communications.

South Dakota Mines

A larger company has acquired a South Dakota startup that began with research by two university professors.

Todd Menkhaus and Hao Fong started their research in 2006 at South Dakota Mines in Rapid City.

They study nanofibers, which Menkhaus described as "really, really small-diameter fibers."

"They’re about a thousand times smaller than a human hair," Menkhaus said. "So you can imagine how tiny these things are.”

Seth Tupper / SDPB

A county board is recommending denial of a permit to mine for gold near Spearfish Canyon.

The company applying for the conditional-use permit is VMC LLC. The Deadwood Standard mine site is on a plateau above Spearfish Canyon, just back from the eastern rim near Savoy.

The company wants to blast and dig 14 pits, each ranging from a half-acre to 5 acres across, and as deep as 70 feet. The company would mine sequentially, backfilling and reclaiming one pit while mining the next.

Sioux Falls Development Foundation

The federal government is providing money to help develop a Sioux Falls industrial park that's the site of a long-rumored but unconfirmed project with Amazon.

The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration announced a $1.9 million grant Wednesday to the Sioux Falls Development Foundation. The foundation will use the money at Foundation Park, a partially developed, 800-acre area immediately northwest of the I-29 and I-90 junction.

Seth Tupper / SDPB

Dewey and Burdock aren’t so much towns as they are placemarks amid the sprawling grasslands of southwestern South Dakota.

Yet even the ranches scattered around those two map dots will soon have high-speed internet.

Denny Law, general manager and CEO of Golden West Telecommunications, announced the project Tuesday.

Walworth County Sheriff's Office/Facebook

Inmates have filed a lawsuit seeking to close the 111-year-old Walworth County Jail in Selby, which county officials have continued to operate despite numerous reports of unsafe conditions.

The lawsuit says county officials have repeatedly been told by their own experts that the jail is “outdated, grossly inadequate, and dangerous.”

Mike Taicher / SDPB

A charitable organization is giving $4 million to the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation to build a new Bison Center at Custer State Park.

The Helmsley Charitable Trust announced the gift Friday during the park’s annual Buffalo Roundup.

The park will use the money to build the new center near the existing buffalo corrals. The center will educate visitors about the park’s bison herd, which numbers nearly 1,300.

Gov. Kristi Noem said the park needs additional donations to build the $5 million center. She joked about that with a crowd at the roundup.

Josh Haiar / SDPB

Government payments to unemployed South Dakotans during the pandemic have surpassed $300 million.

That’s happened in just the past six months. South Dakota Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman said it’s a historic figure.

“To put that in perspective, that $300 million is more than we’ve paid out in the last decade in benefits," Hultman told the state's Workforce Development Council on Wednesday.

Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office was looking for a missing man last fall in a remote, high-elevation part of the western Black Hills.

Capt. Tony Harrison said there was no cell-phone service.

“And so we called FirstNet, and probably within 12 to 14 hours they had a mobile cell tower there, so that we were able to fully communicate back and forth with dispatch," Harrison said.

Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Economic conditions are improved since the worst of the pandemic’s effects, but survey results show business owners are still pessimistic about the future.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis regularly polls companies across a six-state region. That includes South Dakota.

New results show historic levels of pessimism in the professional services sector. Businesses that anticipate declining sales revenue and profits over the next year outnumber those that expect growth.

The Fed’s Joe Mahon shared the results Wednesday in a webinar.


South Dakota’s 2020 Small Business Person of the Year bought a meat locker in Clark in 2009 and expanded it into a meat-retailing and restaurant operation called Dakota Butcher.

The company has five locations in eastern South Dakota and employs 70 people. Owner Randy Gruenwald said he and his wife, Karen, believe in a simple philosophy.

SafeGraph, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Business improved for some hotels and restaurants this summer after pandemic-related disruptions during the spring, but representatives of the hospitality industry say they’re still suffering.

Bob Fuchs owns restaurants and a winery and brewery in the Black Hills, including the Firehouse Brewing Company. He testified virtually Monday to the Legislature’s Joint Commerce and Energy Committee.

Courtesy photo

Four years ago, Russell Graham was the lead author on an exhaustive, 200-page report. It was a history of mountain pine beetle damage and control efforts in the Black Hills.

For him, the research was personal. He grew up in Sundance, on the Wyoming side of the Black Hills. He knew the importance of the national forest to the culture and economy of the region. He wanted people to use his research, to make better decisions about the tree-killing bugs.

But how do you get ordinary people to read a research report?

Seth Tupper / SDPB

A citizen panel wants Black Hills National Forest officials to write a new master plan.

The Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board unanimously approved the recommendation Wednesday. Drafting a new forest plan would require several years of research and public engagement.

Board member Greg Josten, who serves as South Dakota's state forester, hopes the Forest Service’s national office will ease the financial burden.