A battery manufacturer based in Joplin, Missouri, has selected Rapid City as the site for its new 600,000-square-foot gigafactory that eventually could create as many as 1,500 jobs.
According to the company's president, Rapid City prevailed over 20 other communities that it was considering for its new facility.
“Rapid City was head and shoulders above the other 20 potential site selections in terms of economic development package and business community involvement,” Randy Moore, president and CEO of AEsir Technologies, told the Journal.
The factory and distribution center will be located off Old Folsom Road, which is near Highway 79 and across the road from the city's landfill. It will be the anchor for the new Rushmore Industrial Center developed by Dream Design International. Moore said easy access to rail, a state highway and Rapid City Regional Airport was a factor in the company’s decision to choose Rapid City.
AEsir Technologies manufactures nickel zinc batteries that Moore said are two to three times more powerful than lithium ion batteries and last just as long. He said they use potassium hydroxide as the electrolyte, an active ingredient in soaps and shampoos, which makes the batteries more environmentally friendly.
The company's initial facility, one of four, will be a 150,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution center capable of building 2 gigawatt-hours, or 2 billion watt hours or 1.2 million batteries annually. The facility products will be dedicated to data centers and telecommunication 5G networks. When all four buildings are completed, the facility is expected to produce 4.8 million batteries and 8 gigawatt-hours annually.
The company initially plans to hire 400 employees and expand to 1,200 to 1,500 employees. The first phase will cost around $90 million with a total price tag of $300 million when all four phases of the development are finished, according to the company's president.
Moore said the company looked for an available labor force, an economic development incentive package and community support when searching for the ideal location for the new facility.
Moore cited South Dakota's economic-development assistance and tax climate as key reasons it decided to expand to Rapid City.
“With their loan support program ... as well as workforce training, they put a very aggressive package on the table to create the right incentive,” he said.
The state will provide debt support for the building and equipment with an up to $1 million commitment in workforce development.
Matt Brunner, economic development director for Elevate Rapid City, said the company reached out to the organization in April, and his team replied by submitting a 40-page packet touting the area's assets.
“We heard back in a matter of a couple of weeks,” he said.
Company representatives also met with Gov. Kristi Noem and Mayor Steve Allender and other community leaders before selecting Rapid City, Brunner said. The three finalists were Rapid City, San Antonio and Wichita, Kansas, he said.
Brunner said a regional network of private equity firms and angel investors helped close the deal.
“Once we had that component along with our workforce, the excitement around the B-21 coming here, as well as our quality of life, access to decision-makers and the School of Mines plays a big role in this, too. Those five things really made the decision pretty easy for them at the end of the day,” he said.
Moore said the company wants to hire locally and that no one will be relocated from Joplin. Jobs available will include line production, production leads, quality control individuals and supervisors, engineers and managers.
According to Elevate Rapid City’s monthly economic indicators, the region has a historically low 2.6% unemployment rate. Brunner said the unemployment numbers are a mixed blessing for a city recruiting new businesses.
“You want to have low unemployment because it shows a healthy, stable economic development ecosystem, but for expansion within local businesses as well as attracting new businesses, that can be a struggle for someone,” he said. “While we do have a low unemployment, we have a higher than average labor participation rate.”
Brunner said Elevate Rapid City plans to help AEsir find employees, which includes recruitment efforts on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. He also expects the facility will attract new residents to the area.
“I think a lot of these positions will also help with that because people are going to want to move here for some of these positions or even better yet move back,” Brunner said.
Brunner said Rapid City is not historically strong when it comes to manufacturing, but the industry is a key component to success for long-term growth and stability. High-tech companies like AEsir Technologies are the ones Elevate Rapid City will continue to target and hope to attract, he said.
Allender said AEsir Technologies will bring higher-paying jobs to the community.
"It becomes its own job creation ecosystem where at the heart of it are workers who now are making above the average wage for our area," he said. "It's very positive for them as individuals as well as us as a local economy."
AEsir Technologies formed in 2011 as ZAF Energy Systems. It changed its name in 2021. The company also has a factory as well as its headquarters in Joplin and a research and development center in Bozeman, Montana, where Montana State University is located.
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