Gold in "them-thar" hills important to western South Dakota

Kathy Cobb | Associate Editor

Published October 1, 1996  | October 1996 issue

Five gold mining companies are active in South Dakota's Black Hills today, all located within a five-mile radius of Lead in Lawrence County, the heart of South Dakota's tourism region. Despite the increase in tourism that has created more jobs in Black Hills communities, the mines still have a very significant economic impact, says Larry Mann, communications director for Homestake Mining Co., the oldest continuously operating gold mine in the world.

In 1995 the large-scale gold mines employed 1,441 people. Homestake, which produces 80 percent of the state's gold, alone provides 14 percent of the Lawrence County's property tax base and is the county's biggest private employer, according to Mann.

In a 1995 study prepared for the South Dakota Mining Association, University of South Dakota professor Michael Madden indicated that 22 percent of the county's private earnings came from mining directly and indirectly, and about 30 percent of wages and salaries, even though there are fewer mining jobs than 10 years ago.

Madden says that 15 or 20 years ago mining was the dominant Black Hills industry, but that has changed to tourism. He adds that Lawrence County is, in fact, a textbook case of tourism and mining coexisting. "The two industries complement each other economically, and clearly mining is not environmentally threatening to tourism," Madden says. "There's a lot more compatibility economically than some realize between mining and tourism."

South Dakota gold mining in 1995

  • The five gold mines generated an annual payroll of more than $54 million.

  • Mining companies paid nearly $13 million in state and local taxes.

Source: South Dakota Mining Association