Philanthropy puts S.D. on the map

Billionaire T. Denny Sanford gives $400 million for medical research

February 04, 2007|By Stephanie Strom | Stephanie Strom,New York Times News Service

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- South Dakota's economic renaissance has gone largely unnoticed, eclipsed by things like the state's strong opposition to same-sex marriage, its raucous debates over abortion and the stroke suffered by one of its senators, Tim Johnson, that could tip control of the Senate back to the Republicans.

But in the 1990s, its long-stagnant population began to grow, especially here and in Rapid City, and its economy began to diversify. Its lack of personal and corporate income taxes made it attractive to companies and their employees, and while other states tightened their usury laws, South Dakota relaxed them, attracting numerous credit card companies. Citibank continues to be one of the state's largest employers, with 3,200 employees, and call centers line the highways around Sioux Falls.

Now, T. Denny Sanford, a low-key billionaire who made his home and fortune here, will help sustain the state's economic boom with a $400 million gift to the Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, the state's largest employer. Hospital officials hope the gift - the largest ever to a hospital, according to the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University - will help transform Sioux Valley Hospitals, which will change its name to Sanford Health, into a national institution that will eclipse Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic.

"He told me he doesn't want this to be just another Mayo," said Kelby K. Krabbenhoft, Sioux Valley's chief executive.

Hopkins officials welcomed the news.

"What an incredibly generous gift for the people of South Dakota and the region," said spokeswoman Joann Rodgers. "Whenever and wherever there is support for excellence in clinical care, everyone in the national medical community should celebrate."

The largest gift ever made to the Baltimore university and its affiliated medical institutions was $150 million in 2001 by clothing industry billionaire Sidney Kimmel, to support a cancer center. Hopkins is in the midst of a $3.2 billion fundraising campaign. It receives more funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other academic medical center in the country.

Compared to Sanford's gift, the $3.5 million bequest that established the Hopkins hospital in 1873 has the same purchasing power as about $61 million today, according to measuringworth. com, a site that calculates relative worth over time.

Sanford Health has four stated goals: to build five pediatric clinics around the country; to expand research, especially in pediatrics; to build a health care campus with more than 20 separate facilities, and to identify a promising line of medical research and follow it to a cure, much the same way John D. Rockefeller's money found a cure for yellow fever and Bill Gates is searching for a cure for HIV/AIDS.

"If I could put my name on a project in my lifetime and see a major medical breakthrough because of it, that's what I would love to do," said Sanford in an interview from Scottsdale, Ariz.

"The idea that we could really put Sioux Falls and South Dakota so much more on the map, that we could create additional employment and attract people from around the country and around the world, that was really a hot button for me," Sanford said.

The gift is the third major contribution to a health care organization announced in the past week, following a $100 million gift to Brown University's medical school and a $75 million gift to a hospital in Boca Raton, Fla.

Sanford's gift is greater than the total assets of $256 million held by South Dakota's 126 foundations in 2004, according to data compiled by the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

"I'm not sure we really know all the opportunities this gift might make available," said Dan Scott, president of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, which promotes economic development in the region.

"But I think given the amount of resources that will be dedicated to research as part of this gift, we're going to see new companies forming around that research and companies attracted here by the research from elsewhere. It's going to be huge."

The gift addresses several of the goals of Gov. Mike Rounds' 2010 Initiative, which intends to increase tourism, expand the state's economy by $10 billion, largely through the growth of existing business like Sioux Valley Hospitals, and make the state a regional leader in research and technology.

"It's hard to measure quality of life unless you're talking about enjoyment, relaxation and security, and health care is key to all of those things," the governor said in an interview. "This gift will have a major impact on our economy, but it will also improve the quality of life of our citizens."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.