Best Place to Work contest proves immense pride among workers

Wow. Today is the final day of nominations for our inaugural Best Places to Work contest and I’m so impressed at the response we’ve received so far that I just had to share it with everyone.

As I type this, we have received 1,779 surveys! (I typically refrain from using exclamation points, but that one was deserved.)

That’s nearly 2,000 people who work at companies large and small in the Dakotas and western Minnesota who were willing to take five minutes to give a shout-out to their employer for doing something right. That’s impressive.

Many companies appear to have the support of all or nearly all of their employees, as evidenced by the more than 100 nominations we’ve received in support of several companies. What are they doing right? We look forward to sharing their tips with you when we unveil the top 25 large companies and top 25 small companies in our September issue.

For now, there are still a few hours left to have your say in why you think your business deserves to make the list. Just fill out this employee satisfaction survey and have your co-workers do the same. The more nominations received per company, the better its chances are of making the top 50.

We know people in our region take great pride in their hard work and in their place of employment. Thanks to all who have participated to this point. Let’s keep those nominations rolling in and continue to show it!






Best Places to Work contest offers chance for recruitment boost

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Studies have shown that companies with the best employee morale enjoy lower turnover, better financial performance than industry peers, improved track records on safety and higher-quality job applicants. Prairie Business magazine would like to salute the companies that have committed to making their business one of the best in the region in its first “50 Best Places to Work” contest.

Companies will be nominated through an anonymous employee satisfaction survey and will be rated in areas including work environment, employee benefits and employee happiness. The top 25 small companies (99 or fewer full-time employees) and the top 25 large companies (100+ employees) will be honored in the September issue of the magazine. Consideration will be given to the number of nominations received per company. The contest is open to for-profit companies in the Prairie Business readership area. The Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey can be found online at under the 50 Best Companies tab, or by clicking this link:

“Considering the rapid growth of businesses in our region and the extremely low unemployment, finding and keeping employees has become the name of the game for businesses across all industries in the northern Plains,” says Editor Kris Bevill. “This contest is a great way to recognize those employers who have found a way to make the workplace somewhere their employees want to be, whether through unique benefits, great pay or just an overall positive company culture. We think this is the first time our region has had this type of contest and, frankly, it’s about time. We can’t wait to share the results with our readers in September.”

Executive Editor Rona Johnson noted that the contest will also be useful to companies as they continue to expand and seek talented individuals to join their teams. “Our region has the lowest unemployment numbers in the country, so workers can pick and choose where they want to work,” she said. “Being designated a ‘Best Place to Work’ can help tip the scales in a company’s favor and score the best talent available.”

Because companies will be rated according to input from employees, it will be vital for company leaders and employees to spread the word in order to receive the recognition they feel the business deserves. The deadline for nominations is July 18.



Tech talk

The northern Plains technology sector is often described as being emerging and full of potential. This is true, but it is also somewhat misleading. Yes, there are a growing number of new tech firms in the area, but there are also a healthy number of tech companies that have already become established, well-respected leaders in their chosen niche.

Prairie Business’ July cover feature profiles Pedigree Technologies, a Fargo-based firm specializing in providing software systems for machine-to-machine applications. Many people were still discovering the Internet’s capabilities when Alex Warner founded the company from his basement a little over a decade ago on a hunch that there would eventually be a large market for companies that could collect and transmit data from equipment to end-users. Today, the “Internet of Things” as it is sometimes called is estimated to represent a trillion-dollar market. Pedigree Technologies has experienced triple-digit growth in recent years and was named North Dakota’s second-fastest growing company last year. Read “Rise of the Machine (to Machine)” to learn more.

A number of other technology firms in the region are working on “disruptive technologies,” – a technological process or product that could significantly change lives or the way we do business. In “Prairie-Based Disruption,” contributing writer Rob Swenson highlights several potentially disruptive technologies being developed in our region, including portable, solar generators that can be used for a number of applications, perhaps most importantly to power small refrigerators that can be used to store medicine in underdeveloped countries. Other firms are focused on developing cures for infectious diseases, mobile apps and advanced materials for use in a wide variety of industries.

In this month’s Business Development article, we explore technology developed in Spain that enables people to pay for goods and services using a device that reads biometric details from their fingerprint. The technology found its way to the Black Hills of South Dakota via the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Rapid City is now the testing ground for this fascinating technology. Check out “A handier way to pay” to read about the technology and why local businesses are embracing it.

To read the entire issue, click here, or visit


CoCo comes to Fargo

What would happen if entrepreneurs, techies, creative types and remote workers from different cities could come together in the same space to cowork? Minneapolis-based CoCo (short for “coworking” and “collaborative space”) wants to find out and believes Fargo is the best place for its experiment.

The company currently operates three shared workspace locations in the Twin Cities. Now, through a partnership with Fargo-based Emerging Prairie, it will expand its services to Fargo. The company announced during today’s 1 Million Cups gathering in Fargo that it will open CoCo Fargo in early August. The coworking facility will be located in a 6,000-square-foot space above the King House Buffet at 112 ½ N. Broadway in downtown Fargo, providing space for up to 100 members to collaborate, cowork and create. And because CoCo embraces a “member of one, member of all” concept, Fargo’s CoCo members are welcome at any of its Twin Cities locations, and vice versa.

CoCo’s Fargo coworking space will be located in downtown Fargo.

Company cofounder Don Ball expects it won’t be long before the experiment produces some exciting results. “We’ve found that even in the Twin Cities that people will go to different locations for different reasons and we’ve always imagined that across the region that could happen,” he says. “When some of our members find out the incredible talent pool that’s in Fargo, I think they’re going to come looking for help with their projects. And, I hope the Fargo people will take their show on the road to the Twin Cities.”

CoCo has been entertaining a possible expansion to Fargo for about three years, thanks to a grassroots effort by the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., the Kilbourne Group and Emerging Prairie. Ball says his company had also explored other markets in the vicinity of Minneapolis for its first expansion, but none impressed like Fargo in terms of energy, enthusiasm and the commitment of people eager to grow the community.

“Fargo just punches above its weight,” he says. … “It’s a town that’s just ready to explode. All you have to do is show up and give all the people with the energy venues where they can be together more often and work on projects more often.”

CoCo will manage the coworking space while Emerging Prairie will host various events and meetups at the facility. The space will particularly support the area’s entrepreneurial system, according to Emerging Prairie cofounder Greg Tehven. “We believe that a collaborative work space improves the work experience for people, especially entrepreneurs.”

Individual membership fees for CoCo Fargo will start at about $70 per month for single-day access each week and increase in cost according to the amount of space access desired. Group memberships will also be available. Details are available at

Ball says his company is considering additional expansions throughout the region as the popularity of coworking continues to grow. Look for further coverage on the coworking trend and CoCo’s plans for Fargo in the August issue of Prairie Business.

Best Business competition heats up

I’m like a kid waiting for cookies to bake when it comes to contest entries. I can’t resist the urge to peek. Such is the case with our Best Places to Work contest, which is currently open for nominations.

My curiousity is justified by the fact that I need to try to gauge reader response and make sure everything is working properly, but the truth is I just can’t help but scan through the entries to find out why people are nominating their employers for the award.

So far, I’m impressed.

At a glance, benefits and salary certainly rank high among reasons why employees think their workplace is best. But from the comments I’ve read, it’s the company’s culture that really resonates with nominators. From what I’ve seen so far, culture doesn’t have to include parties or unique perks to make employees feel valued and loyal to their employer. Rather, simply treating them with respect and making it known that the owners/managers appreciate employees’ efforts can be enough to create lifelong employees.

So, what does your company do to make you feel valued? Why do you enjoy going to work every day? If you haven’t yet nominated your company for the award, take a moment to fill out the employee survey and then pass it around to your coworkers and encourage them to participate. A few things to note about the process:

  • We keep the results anonymous.
  • The survey takes 5-10 minutes to complete.
  • To qualify a business, employees need only to complete the online survey and click “Submit” when finished. The more employees who complete the survey, the better.
  • The deadline to complete the survey is July 18.

We’ll honor the top 25 small and top 25 large businesses in the northern Plains (the Dakotas and western Minnesota) in our September issue. I’m so excited to share the results of the survey and what makes a company great in our region. Keep the nominations coming … I’ll keep making sure they don’t burn in the oven.


Landscape architects keep quality of life in focus

Our June issue includes an overview of landscape architecture and its impact on quality of life improvements throughout the region. I found it quite interesting that the profession is considered relatively young compared to other architecture disciplines and is only just beginning to emerge as an in-demand profession in the northern Plains. Drivers behind its increase in popularity include public awareness and the growing trend toward environmentally friendly outdoor spaces, but as our region’s population continues to mushroom, urban growth and a desire to improve amenities for residents are heavy influencers as well.

From the article:

Mike Allmendinger founded Fargo-based Land Elements 11 years ago this month and has spent much of the past decade educating people about the profession and its services. During that time, he’s also built the firm to eight employees and has racked up an impressive portfolio that includes rooftop gardens at several downtown Fargo buildings, the most well-known being the Hotel Donaldson’s Sky Prairie, as well as master planning for residential developments, commercial property layouts, stormwater management projects for the city of Fargo, greenspace developments at local universities and streetscape work in downtown Fargo.

“I believe that if you create great outdoor spaces and unique experiences, people will create memories in these spaces, and memories will help create a strong sense of community,” he says. “There are many components of making strong communities, but I absolutely feel that landscape architecture is one of them.”

To read the article in its entirety, click here. Visit to view the entire issue or to subscribe to the digital edition.


Bemidji focuses on entrepreneurial support

Every issue of Prairie Business includes a spotlight on one of our region’s communities. The June issue focuses on Bemidji, Minn., an economic hub for about 100,000 people in northwest Minnesota. Like other communities in our area, Bemidji’s economy has been thriving lately. What’s unique is that the entire community is working in concert to support fledgling entrepreneurs and encourage small business growth in and around this scenic town.

Following is an excerpt of the article, “In it together“:

As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. In Bemidji, Minn., business owners and city leaders are putting those words into action, taking a collaborative approach toward expanding and improving one of northwestern Minnesota’s most scenic regional hubs. New business owners are finding supportive mentors and launching unique and successful businesses, existing businesses are investing time and money into expansions and enhancements and community leaders are encouraging growth while emphasizing the continued quality of life that has made the lakeside community an attractive home for its more than 13,000 residents and an annual vacation destination for thousands of others.

“At a time when many rural areas are struggling and declining, Bemidji is in a strong growth phase, which is a great thing,” says Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji. “It’s a real culture shift where you have a community that is aligned from the chamber, the economic development organization (Greater Bemidji), to the city and county to private businesses in the downtown community. Everybody is aligned and moving in the same direction. It’s a powerful thing.”

To read the full article, click here.

June issue Editor’s Note: Quality is key

“Quality of life” has become the hot buzz phrase throughout the northern Plains as businesses and communities race to roll out their red carpets for newcomers. By now, our area has become synonymous with nearly nonexistent unemployment rates and strong economies, but it also struggles against the stigma of cold winters and isolated communities. So while the prospect of a good paying job in a stable community is attractive, potential new residents often need more than a job offer to make them want to live here, and forward-thinking community and business leaders have become increasingly focused on quality of life improvements to make the region more attractive to newcomers, as well as existing residents.

For “Designing a Better Life,” we talked to landscape architects in the region who are doing their part to improve the quality of life for communities through thoughtful, all-encompassing design. I think readers may be as surprised as I was to learn the extent to which the concept of “quality of life” plays in landscape architecture and the long-lasting impact those projects have on that purpose. Every part of landscape architecture is meant to enhance and improve a space — environmentally, functionally and aesthetically — the result of which is a place where memories are made. We need more of these spaces in our communities if we are to attract and retain the talent we need to support our strong economies, and landscape architects are eager to help fill the need.

Our cover photo this month showcases Northland Community and Technical College’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS) program. The UAS industry is considered to be the frontier of aviation and our region truly is at the forefront of the frontier, fitting for an area settled years ago by pioneers willing to take chances on new opportunities. Several years ago, NCTC became the first college in the U.S. to offer UAS maintenance training (the University of North Dakota was the first to offer UAS pilot training) and the school has continued to expand its UAS training offerings to meet the emerging demand for skilled workers in the industry. This month, the Red River Valley Research Corridor will host the 8th annual UAS Summit in Grand Forks, N.D., where industry stakeholders from around the world are expected to come together to discuss the specifics of launching the industry via applications in a number of sectors, including agriculture and energy, and our region has expertise in every targeted sector in addition to higher education. Read “The Frontier of UAS Education” to learn more about NCTC ’s programs and where UAS training is headed next.

Collaboration and team effort are also on display in this issue’s Talk of the Town, which spotlights beautiful Bemidji, Minn. The lakeside city has developed an enviable entrepreneurial community and continues to come up with new ideas to foster growth and encourage new ventures. When other communities are just beginning to roll out long-term entrepreneurial support plans and workforce recruitment and retention strategies, Bemidji is already doing it. Business and community leaders are working in sync to meet their goals and say that’s the reason for Bemidji’s healthy rate of activity and anticipated continued growth and innovation. Read “In it together” for more.

Read the entire issue at


Wanted: Best places to work

Are you one of those lucky people who get out of bed each morning and look forward to going to work? If you are, we want to hear from you.

We recently launched our first 50 Best Places to Work contest. The contest is dependent upon employee input to determine the top 25 small businesses (99 or fewer employees) and the top 25 large businesses (100+) for employment. A short anonymous online survey asks for information about things like company culture, pay, benefits and overall happiness. When the nomination window closes on July 18, we’ll compile the results (the more nominations for a company, the better) and will highlight the winners in our September issue.

This contest is not only a great way to recognize companies that are doing it right and making the workplace a place employees want to be, it’s also a great potential recruitment tool. I hear from businesses every day that workforce is their biggest concern and that they struggle to attract and keep the right employees. Being able to boast that your business is one of the 25 best in a three-state region will be a major selling point. Because recruiters and bosses can say their business is a great place to work, but if the current employees agree, that really means something to a prospective employee.

A few things to remember when nominating:

  • To be eligible, companies must be for-profit and located within our readership area (the Dakotas and western Minnesota)
  • Weight will be given to the number of nominations received for each company. Pass the survey link around at work! The survey is a series of statements asking how strongly you agree/disagree with the statement. It takes about 10 minutes to complete.
  • Deadline to complete surveys is July 18
  • Link to survey form is here, or visit and look for the “50 Best Companies” tab at the top of the homepage.

I can’t wait to see the submissions and share the results with you in September.

Happy nominating!

A match made in China

South Dakota wants to establish a sister-state in China and it looks like Inner Mongolia might be the right match.

Speaking by phone from a trade mission stop in Shanghai on May 14, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the trade mission group, including representatives of nine private businesses, state agencies and South Dakota State University, had just traveled to Shanghai earlier that day after spending several days in Inner Mongolia to meet with the province’s governor, government leaders and private industry members to discuss the potential of a sister-state relationship. The pairing came at the suggestion of both the U.S. and Chinese embassies and “seemed a good fit” for South Dakota, Daugaard said. While Inner Mongolia’s population of about 25 million vastly outnumbers South Dakota’s, it remains a largely rural, agriculture-based society – very similar to South Dakota, he said.

Dairy and livestock are major industries in Inner Mongolia, so trade mission attendees toured a dairy processing facility, one of the largest in China, while visiting the province and discussed increasing dairy products trade.

Daugaard said economic development and cultural and tourism exchanges would comprise the key aspects of a sister-state relationship. Having a Chinese sister-state would also benefit the state in that it would help increase awareness of South Dakota among the people and businesses in the province. “When you’re a small state like South Dakota, it’s a little bit harder to differentiate yourself and get the attention of the government,” he said. “When you go to a smaller province, they’re more rural – more like us – they’re not given as much attention by others. So when they get attention from a state like South Dakota that is similar to them, they pay attention. And because the government pays attention to us, it’s more likely they will urge [trade meetings] to occur.”

Another potential benefit of sister-state relationships is the ability to host reverse trade missions in South Dakota for representatives from the province. Daugaard said he spoke with Inner Mongolia’s minister of commerce about trips to the state and will continue to explore the possibility as discussions regarding the sister-state relationship move forward.

Brad Hennrich, president of Watertown, S.D.-based specialty grain company Hesco Inc., also spoke during the call and said he was appreciative of the state’s efforts to help private companies increase exports to China through trade missions such as this one. “This is not something we could have undertaken on our own,” he said.

China’s market for quality grains is growing rapidly, according to Hennrich, and the people of China are eager to incorporate U.S. grains into their diets in any number of products. Since landing in China last Friday, Hennrich said he has had several meetings with positive outcomes and he indicated that he expected at least one to translate into a future sale. China’s vast market includes export potential for a number of grains, including flax and barley, despite the fact that the country produces many of those same products, because China’s domestically produced crops are lower in quality. “What we have in the U.S. is what they want,” he said.

Kathleen Fairfax, assistant vice president for international affairs and outreach at South Dakota State University, said she was attending the trip as a representative of the state’s higher education institutions and was focused on encouraging greater enrollment of Chinese students at the state’s universities. There are about 250,000 Chinese students enrolled at universities in the U.S. every year, but only about 1,500 of them are enrolled in South Dakota, largely because the state is not well-known in China. Her pitch to Chinese universities, education officials and organizations focused on the safety and beauty of the state as well as the high quality of education and low cost of tuition. She said she hopes to increase collaboration between South Dakota universities and Chinese education stakeholders and is optimistic the state’s universities will attract more Chinese students as a result of the trade mission. “It’s been a great experience here so far,” she said.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Ba Teer, governor of Inner Mongolia’s autonomous region, at a meeting in Inner Mongolia held May 11 to discuss increasing trade between the state and province.