Mr. Epp offers a worthwhile reminder that, for all of his good work covering (and questioning) Hyperion, he still goes back and forth on whether a big oil refinery would ultimately be a good thing for Elk Point. The April 2009 Rural Life Census Data Center newsletter from SDSU provides another reminder why the Hyperion refinery is not the black-and-white issue I often portray it as. For every good person who believes saving Union County means keeping Hyperion out, there are other good people who believe saving Union County means finding an employer who can bring back the almost 1,800 private-sector jobs Union County has lost since 2002. According to the RLCDC report (p. 2), Union County's private industry jobs dropped from 10,131 in 2002 to 8,344 in 2008. That's a 17.6% drop, the fifth largest in South Dakota.
(Custer County leads job losses over that period, losing 55.1% of its private-sector jobs. Where'd everybody go—Rapid City? But come on: even Butte, Meade, and Shannon showed double-digit percentage job growth. Weird!)
But the statistical picture is confusing. Don't forget that Union County includes golf-course-turned-municipality Dakota Dunes ("master planned community"—isn't that like the Soviet Union?). The county has still seen 10.9% population growth during this decade, and median household income is $56,951, 131% of the state median and the second highest in the state. So if all the jobs went to Vermillion and Sioux City, at least they appear to be pretty well-paying jobs... but enough to cover $4-a-gallon gas when it comes back for the daily commute?
It's complicated. Unlike Senator Thune, I believe we do need to think of indirect costs when we look at big policy questions, in this case, local economic development. If Union County has lost 1,800 jobs and they're trying to get them back, it does give me a little pause to look at them from three counties over and tell them they should turn down 1,800 permanent jobs and other indirect employment that the refinery could bring...
...assuming, as Mr. Epp reminds us, that Hyperion can even build a refinery, let along operate one in the black.
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