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POET Bioproducts Center officially opens with ribbon-cutting ceremony

Group photo of ribbon cutting ceremony
Higher education leaders, industry partners and other stakeholders taking part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the POET Bioproducts Center, located in the Research Park at South Dakota State University. (Photo by Emily Spartz Weerheim)

After nearly two years of construction, the POET Bioproducts Center has officially opened its doors to the region's leading bioprocessing scientists. 

The new laboratory, located in the Research Park at South Dakota State University, will bring researchers from SDSU and South Dakota Mines together with industry partners to scale up innovative biotechnologies and diversify South Dakota's economy.

"This specialized facility with the specialized expertise that goes with it is the latest provision of the Research Park at SDSU for the purposes of fostering public-private partnering to move university-sourced technology and innovation into the marketplace," said Daniel Scholl, vice president for research and economic development at SDSU.

Higher education leaders, legislators, industry partners and leading scientists gathered in Brookings to celebrate the center's grand opening Wednesday, Oct. 11.

"University research impacts economic growth in our communities through the commercialization of new and innovative ideas that solve real world problems," SDSU President Barry Dunn said. "That process requires investment in cutting-edge facilities, like that one we are celebrating today."

The center will provide structure and simplicity for private enterprise to collaborate with university scientists to develop cutting-edge, applied biotechnology products. It aims to move existing research at the two universities to a higher level with industry partners and to do final proof-of-concept work that will show commercial viability and subsequently drive economic growth in the state and region.

"Research parks across the world have demonstrated the long-term impact of economics of having research going through this commercialization process," said Larry Tidemann, former state senator and a member of the Research Park at SDSU board of directors. "But the important thing is that research is focused on the strengths of the universities involved. South Dakota can be the leaders, with School of Mines and its chemical engineering, and SDSU with its engineering and agriculture, working together to lead us, the United States, into the future."

The 45,000-square-foot facility was made possible through $20 million in legislative funding, $5 million from POET and $2 million from South Dakota Corn. The South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council provided an additional $500,000 annually for five years—a total of $2.5 million—and the state of South Dakota has committed $500,000 yearly for operational costs.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration has provided another $3 million for the purchase of specialized equipment needed for the labs.

"Together, we're investing in the future of our state and all those who live here, starting with the dedicated faculty and students who will work in this first-of-its-kind facility," said Jeff Broin, founder and CEO of POET. "At POET, we are proud to call South Dakota home. It's been an honor to grow our business here, and it's been an honor to see the positive impact the POET Bioproducts Center will have on our next generation of leaders and innovators."

Jeff Broin speaking
Jeff Broin, president and CEO of POET, speaking at the ceremony. (Photo by Emily Spartz Weerheim)

POET, headquartered in Sioux Falls, is a global leader in the production of bioproducts and will provide innovation around commercial-scale development for the center.

"Today is the culmination of decades of work and persistence that started at the local level and worked up through the state Legislature," said Nathan Lukkes, executive director and CEO of the South Dakota Board of Regents. "We couldn't have done anything that we did without every single partner on the table. It has truly been a team effort to get us where we are today."

To facilitate the public-private partnerships that are expected to emerge from the lab, a not-for-profit organization, Dakota BioWorx, will manage the center.

"Now, we are working on the fourth industrial revolution which we are calling the bioeconomy," said Craig Arnold, CEO of Dakota BioWorx. "We are transitioning off of a petroleum-based economy to a plant-based or renewable economy."

The center will focus on two specialization areas: specialty animal feeds, specifically prebiotics and probiotics that have the potential to reduce the need for antibiotics, and biomaterials, including bioplastics that are degradable. The specialization areas were recommended by an international bioscience consulting team and are supported by South Dakota's abundance of agricultural feedstock.

SDSU's strengths are on the feedstock and bioprocessing side, while Mines is strong on the bioprocessing side.

"Both universities are working to build South Dakota's bioproducts economy," said James Rankin, president of South Dakota Mines. "This partnership makes sense because the two universities have complementary expertise, capabilities and industry relationships. Both Mines and SDSU are economic engines for our state. The research that is created by our students, faculty and staff fuels innovation through the creation of new ideas."

The facility is expected to produce more than $6 million annually from research expenditures, which includes employee salaries from grant-funded research. Estimates also include more than $4 million annually toward South Dakota industries accessing pre-pilot scale-up lab and bioprocessing services. It will also provide jobs for highly trained scientists and engineers, as well as administrative, operations and accounting positions.

"The Legislature recognized the value in investing in a place like this to do research and develop high-value bioproducts that will be sourced and manufactured in South Dakota," said Tim Reed, a state senator in the South Dakota Legislature and CEO of the Brookings Economic Development Corporation. "That is going to be huge for our economy."

The end goal of the center is to serve as an innovation center for the development of low-value agricultural and forestry materials into the next generation of high-value bioproducts and biotechnologies.

Barry Dunn speaking
SDSU President Barry Dunn at the podium. (Photo by Emily Spartz Weerheim)

"This facility would not be possible without the strategic partnership of the State of South Dakota, POET, South Dakota Corn, South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, South Dakota Board of Regents, South Dakota Mines, South Dakota State University and the Research Park at SDSU," Dunn said. "Thank you all for your willingness to trust us and financially support the building of this incredible facility."