For Scott Knutson, executive vice president of sales for a Minnesota company called Product Support Solutions, or PSS, the chance to hunt pheasants in central South Dakota is one of the big reasons he’s in Pierre this week.

A bigger one is the chance to connect with Eagle Creek Software Services.

Eagle Creek is based in Eden Prairie, Minn., and has locations in Valley City, N.D., and Pierre. It’s a quickly growing company that is making its mark by offering corporations a new model for getting some of their software service work done.

“This Dakota model, it was intriguing. That’s why I encouraged our company to look at them,” says Knutson. “A lot of our companies want to find ways to reduce their development costs, but they aren’t willing to offshore their development.”

The onshore alternative

Knutson was one of a group of about 20 business executives – some from Eagle Creek, some from Pierre and some of Eagle Creek’s current or potential clients – who turned out to hunt pheasants near Onida on Tuesday.

Another one was Matt Watson, chief technology officer of an Atlanta, Ga.-based company called Incomm that is already doing business with Eagle Creek. The reason he’s already connected with Eagle Creek, Watson said, is that Dakota model.

“I’m a big fan,” Watson said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The Dakota model essentially offers companies an alternative to going offshore for major software services or bringing software professionals on-site.

Eagle Creek CEO Ken Behrendt said that keeping costs low in locations such as Pierre and Valley City allows Eagle Creek to compete against on-site software service providers – consultants who show up at business clients’ doors and charge hefty fees for their services. Eagle Creek can do that same work for about 60 percent less at its locations in Pierre and Valley City, Behrendt said.

On the other hand, the Dakota model is about 60 percent more expensive than taking business offshore, Behrendt said, but it allows corporations to avoid the cultural misunderstandings and time-zone issues businesses run into when shopping for software services offshore.

Don’t call it rural

Jim Protexter of the Pierre Economic Development Corp., one of the avid hunters who coached the visiting business executives about safety on Tuesday, said Eagle Creek does South Dakota a favor by bringing corporate leaders in for a November hunt. The hunt is good for Eagle Creek, but it also helps the Pierre area to showcase what South Dakota has to offer in its mix of infrastructure and rural quality of life.

Protexter and Behrendt said the hunt is simply modeled after the Governor’s Hunt in Pierre.

But Behrendt noted that terminology is important in telling clients what it can do in rural states such as South Dakota and North Dakota. “Rural” conveys the wrong idea.

“We don’t call it ‘rural America.’ We call it ‘non-urban,’” Behrendt said. “You have all the amenities you need, the infrastructure, all of that.”

Watson adds that businesses can tell that the state and local governments in South Dakota will work with them to get the technical resources necessary to make projects happen.

“South Dakota heretofore hasn’t exactly been known as a hub of technology,” Watson said. “Being in a position where you’re growing, that is part of what makes the pricing and some of the opportunities so attractive.”

Knutson, who grew up in rural Minnesota, said part of what makes the Dakota model competitive is that it uses telecommunications technologies to solve the need to be on-site.

“It’s a small world right now – you can go anywhere,” Knutson said.  

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