This week's small-town hero has to be Joe Kolbach, the visionary behind the restoration of the old School for the Blind in Gary, South Dakota. The Howard native's efforts to revitalize tiny Gary's economy demonstrate two vital components of successful rural economic development:
- An ability to look past what was and what is and see what can be, and
- A grasp of the potential for green power to provide not just clean electricity but far-reaching economic impacts.
On green power: Key to this whole story is wind power. Kolbach founded Energy Maintenance Service in 1998 to provide components and services for wind turbines. He evidently made some money. That's how he can bankroll this project.
But Kolbach's not just some crazy rich guy pouring money down a hole. He sees a chance to turn green power into green dollars downtown. You see, wind power and other alternative energy projects aren't just about burning less oil and hugging trees. All those folks building and maintaining wind turbines need training. Kolbach sees training sessions for employees of just one company, Airstreams, as having the potential to fill the Herrick Hotel at the Buffalo Ridge Resort most weeks. Central continental location, no city traffic, beautiful getaway... brilliant!
Kolbach and his partners in Gary are on the right track. Building synergy with history, tourism, and the energy of the future is a blueprint for success on which lots of towns across South Dakota can capitalize.