As we enter harvest season, it’s rewarding to imagine my late boss, Mark Shlanta, reaping the reward of his productive career as SDN Communications’ CEO.
Mark knew little to nothing about farming, but when he spearheaded the company’s effort to buy a farmstead just northwest of Sioux Falls and transform it into a data center and future technology park, he got involved in every detail of the acreage.
He’d make up excuses to go visit the 66-acre site. He couldn’t help himself. He had to be involved in every detail – deciding what kind of grass seed to sow, connecting with the farmer who would mow that grass for hay, and dreaming of pheasants populating that prairie patch.
Mark appreciated my Kingsbury County farm roots and knew of my love of all South Dakota lands. So, often he’d stick his head in my office and ask if I’d go out with him to check on some detail of the acreage. I’d always agree to go.
Those trips stick fondly in my head today as we dedicate the site as the Mark Shlanta Technology Park. The SDN Board decided on the naming in June, four months after cancer stole Mark from us.
It’s a fitting tribute to the man who sowed the seeds for SDN’s remarkable success story.
Although most of Mark’s formative years were in the big city of Brookings, he did work a few farm-hand jobs for nearby farmers. Still, he could barely identify crops or comprehend the logistics of farming. Early on in our trips across the state, he’d point to roadside crops and ask me to identify them and describe how farmers cared for them.
No, he was no farmer. However, he had the spirit of one. He carried eternal hope and vision. He believed in calculated risk and land conservation. For SDN, he planted a seed that is growing into a massive data center farm.
Also, like a farmer, he demonstrated humility. He didn’t need things named after him. He’d be a little embarrassed by all the fuss, but he’d be proud of what the technology park is and what it will become.
Enjoy your harvest, Mark.