Raven Industries has been a longtime fixture in Sioux Falls, but is a relative newcomer to the Rapid City area. Founded in 1956, the manufacturing firm's multiple business divisions were growing so rapidly they needed to add more technical employees. Looking for ways to entice people to work in South Dakota, President/CEO Daniel Rykhus met with then-governor Dennis Daugaard and South Dakota School of Mines & Technology President Robert Wharton to come up with a solution. Focusing on the success of Raven's technical center in Austin, Texas, they decided to leverage the resources at SDSMT and open a similar tech center in the business incubator at Ascent Innovation.
"The idea was that we would be on campus and provide experiences for interns," explains Jim Slichter, an SDSMT graduate himself who was hired to manage the Rapid City location. Or rehired, to be more accurate; Jim had previously worked for Raven Industries in Sioux Falls in the 1990s, but left when he moved to the Black Hills. In addition to running the local office, Jim is also an engineering manager and supply chain director for the company. "They hoped the interns would be more likely to stay in South Dakota after graduating, and maybe work for Raven Industries."
Seven years later, their plan has been a resounding success. Raven Industries hires 40-50 interns companywide every year; they go on to work in a variety of areas including sales, accounting, engineering, and legal—"the whole gamut," Jim says. According to their HR department, 10-15 percent of interns transition to full-time employment. In Rapid City, that figure is even more impressive; about 50 percent have been hired to work for Raven Industries after graduating, a testament to the value of having an office right on campus.
Raven Industries got its start designing and manufacturing high-altitude research balloons for the American space program. They have since grown into a highly diversified technology company with three business units: Applied Technology, Engineered Films, and Aerostar. In addition to their headquarters in Sioux Falls and R&D facility in Rapid City, they have multiple locations across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and South America. Raven Industries places a strong emphasis on social responsibility and is dedicated to safety, energy independence, environmental preservation, and eradicating hunger. Their business philosophy centers on creating technology that leaves a positive impact on people and places around the world.
Jim works alongside one other full-time employee, Andrew Stelter. During the school year, between 6-8 interns work on individual projects or as part of a team, where they are paired with a full-time mentor. They average 10-15 hours a week and have the option to work full-time during the summer to provide them with continuity.
Interns aren't the only ones who benefit from Raven's convenient location. Jim plays an active role on campus, speaking to classes and sponsoring research projects. He meets with freshmen six weeks into the school year to discuss opportunities with Raven Industries and participates in other events throughout the year, such as a recent industrial consortium with engineering students. "We dip our toes into a wide range of activities on campus," he says. "Being that geographically close to the school and students is pretty important to us."
Jim could not be more pleased with the group at Ascent Innovation, touting the strong working relationship they have developed as a key ingredient in Raven's success. "They are extremely flexible," he says. "The space we are in used to have a concrete floor. It looked like a warehouse. We had it carpeted, wired up for connectivity, and added a lab space in back. They have always been supportive of what we want to do."
There's always the possibility that Raven Industries will outgrow their location in the business incubator, but for now, that's exactly where they want to be. "It's been a great relationship!" Jim says.