Sioux Falls, Fargo among top mid-sized cities for job seekers

Recent analysis conducted by mylife.com found that Sioux Falls, S.D., and Fargo, N.D., are among the top 10 mid-sized cities in the U.S. to find a job. Other cities on the list included Rochester, Minn.; Midland, Odessa, Amarillo, Abilene and Wichita Falls, Texas; Broken Arrow, Okla., and Billings Mont.

The site narrowed a list of 189 mid-sized cities to the top 10 by ranking each of the 189 cities on several factors, including cost of living, job openings per capita, employment rate and average income. Out of the 189 cities, Sioux Falls received an overall fourth place ranking, based largely on its high employment rate. The site noted that the city ranked high in employment numbers despite steadily growing in population over the past few years – a good sign that new residents will be able to find jobs.

Fargo received a 10th place ranking, also based largely on its employment ranking. Fargo actually had the second best employment numbers out of all 189 cities (Sioux Falls came in fourth place), but its job openings per capita were lower than Sioux Falls, as was its average income ranking.

The full list of rankings is available at mylife.com.

April editor’s note: The heart of the matter

Downtown revitalizations are happening throughout the country and it is exciting to see the same trend happening locally, in our region’s hubs as well as in our smaller communities.

Downtowns are the heart of their communities. If the town’s downtown (or Main Street) is vibrant, the rest of the town is likely to be healthy as well. Every downtown has its own unique features to embrace, yet they all serve the same ultimate goal — to create a thriving community and support local businesses. The downtown redevelopment movement can be seen in various stages throughout our region, from Rapid City, S.D.’s Main Street Square to Grand Forks, N.D.’s budding downtown development group. Read “Reviving the Heart” to learn what downtown groups have planned and how businesses can play a role in the movement.

In “Making a Difference,” we talk to several architects who recently added 3D printers to their firms. The dropping cost of the technology has allowed technology-savvy architects and engineers to begin incorporating 3D printers into their practices, giving the early adopters a competitive advantage, at least until everyone else gets one. The increasing popularity of 3D printers is also prompting new businesses to emerge to serve the growing market. We talk to the founders of Fargo 3D Printing, a startup launched in January to distribute and service the machines. The company expects to soon grow to serve customers in the Dakotas and Minnesota, with plans to also open a retail store later this year.

This month also includes an article on South Dakota’s ongoing work to grow its dairy industry. Most of the state’s efforts are focused on encouraging existing producers to expand their herds, but officials are also actively recruiting out-of-state producers to consider the pastures of South Dakota. This February marked the third year that Gov. Dennis Daugaard and other state officials have traveled to the World Ag Expo in California to recruit dairy farmers. Contributing writer Rob Swenson examines why the state needs a larger dairy industry and how successful its efforts to date have been in “Got Milk?”

Finally, we include a pair of articles that approach workforce issues in completely different ways. Gate City Bank recently renovated part of its downtown Fargo corporate building to create a collaborative workspace, meant to attract the millennial generation. In Killdeer, N.D., Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing subsidized a local daycare and built its own apartment building rather than face losing workers or risk not attracting new workers because of a lack of either of those necessities. Workforce shortages are the top concern for businesses in all industries throughout our area and we will continue to cover unique approaches taken by businesses to combat that issue. Look for more in coming issues.

 

Report highlights areas of growth for women-owned businesses

A report released March 27 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Women in Business offers revealing statistics regarding the current state of women-owned businesses in the country and what regions are most likely to have women-owned businesses.

The report found that nearly one-third of all new U.S. businesses launched in the last 15 years are women-owned and that women are founding companies at a faster rate than any other group. Most interestingly, I thought, is that a startling 90 percent of women-owned businesses are sole enterprises and have no other employees. And only 2 percent of women-owned businesses have 10 or more employees — half the rate of all businesses. Self-employed females are most prevalent in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon, with more than 45 percent of its self-employed workers being female, has more self-employed women than any other state. Washington ranked fourth among all states for self-employed women.

North Dakota, which has become accustomed to taking top prize on many nationwide rankings, ranked dead last this time with fewer than 28 percent self-employed women. South Dakota fared only slightly better, ranking 46th with about 33 percent self-employed females. Minnesota, in which nearly 38 percent of the state’s self-employed workers are female, ranked 27th on the list. The national average was 38.2 percent.

Grand Forks, N.D.-based Praxis Strategy Group conducted the research for this report, so I asked President Delore Zimmerman why he thought North Dakota has fewer self-employed women than any other state. He said there are a few likely causes contributing to the rating: A plentitude of jobs at existing firms and a cultural attitude that discourages self-employment for women are likely reasons. Another reason could be that the number of self-employed people in North Dakota is dominated by farmers, a predominantly male profession.

It will be interesting to see how the ratio of female-owned sole enterprises changes in North Dakota and throughout the northern Plains in coming years. According to the report, 10 million U.S. workers were self employed in 2013 and the number of self-employed workers is growing faster than employees in incorporated entitites. If this trend continues, Praxis researchers predict that more U.S. workers will telecommute than physically commute by 2020.

To read the report, titled “Women-Owned Businesses: Carving a New American Business Landscape,” click here.

Startup Weekend encourages entrepreneurial growth

Last night I had the honor of being among a panel of judges for the second annual Fargo Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend, for those not familiar, is a national organization focused on promoting business growth through an intensive weekend filled with business pitches, teamwork and product development, culminating in a Sunday night event during which teams pitch their final products to a panel of judges.

This year’s Fargo event, organized by a group of local entrepreneurs and startup community promoters, attracted approximately 90 participants, up from about 60 last year. The majority of participants were college-age and included programmers, designers, hopeful entrepreneurs and other business-minded and adventurous people willing to spend a sleepless weekend developing concepts into feasible business models with help from local business leaders who donated their time to serve as coaches. Forty-eight ideas were pitched Friday night and were eventually narrowed down to 12 business ideas as participants teamed up to work on their favorite concept. Over the course of 53 hours (one hour less than typical Startup Weekends due to the spring time change), teams developed their ideas and put together three-minute pitches to deliver to the judges Sunday night, leaving us with the difficult task of choosing the three top teams to award prize packages including business mentorship and legal work to further support the budding businesses.

The weekend’s top prize went to a business idea called Hack Fargo, which is focused on compiling open data like building permits, fire and police calls and other publicly available data, into usable analytics. The team included a number of clearly talented programmers who were able to compile and analyze data to create informational graphs over the course of the weekend. They hope to convert other public data not currently available online into usable data that can be easily accessed and analyzed. The group won because of their impressive skills, informative and entertaining presentation and potential to continue developing the concept.

Second place was earned by a unique mug company called Handles Mug Co. that would manufacture magnetic drinking mugs so friends could literally link up by connecting their mugs and sharing a drink. If it sounds a little wacky that’s because it is, but the team also got an impressive amount of work done over the weekend to develop and market its idea, even using a 3D printer to create a prototype for the judges to see.

Third place was won by a website called IFail.co, which, as you might have already guessed, is a website that allows people to share their humorous tales of everyday “fails.” What impressed me most about this business was that the team was able to create and launch a website and begin generating revenue through Google ads within hours of initially pitching the concept Friday night. Check it out at ifail.co.

It is clear that there is a growing and eager community of would-be entrepreneurs in our region and events like Startup Weekend give them the chance to learn about business development and what it takes to bring an idea from concept to launch. It was great fun to be a part of it and I look forward to seeing some of the weekend’s ideas continue to be developed.

March issue highlights 25 of region’s top women in business

One of my favorite and, I think, most poignant recent observations regarding how far women have come in leveling the field in the workplace comes from comedian Sarah Silverman.

She tells her audiences that the biggest mistake anyone can make is to tell girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. This is a mistake, not because it’s not true, but because girls would never think otherwise if someone didn’t say so, she says.

Of course, even a few short decades ago, this was not the case. And to some extent today, women continue to battle glass ceilings in terms of pay and in job availability. As a female stand-up comedian, an historically male-dominated profession, Silverman is no doubt herself no stranger to gender-related professional battles. But her success in today’s comedy industry has paved the way for a slew of up-and-coming female comics who seek to be recognized for their quick wit and originality rather than their gender.

Likewise, many of the women featured in our inaugural top 25 women in business list believe strongly that women can now pursue and succeed in any career without paying heed to gender. Several women featured on the list have succeeded in making a name for themselves in industries such as manufacturing, where women continue to comprise a minority of the workforce, but they have risen to the top of their professions regardless.

We are thrilled to introduce you to the women who made our list and believe they set a strong example for the region’s entire business community, male and female. I’d also like to extend our congratulations to all who were nominated. Because this was our first time requesting nominations for the women in business list, we weren’t sure what to expect. I speak for the entire team when I say we were blown away by the number of nominations we received and the high caliber of nominees. More than 100 women were nominated from throughout the region, all of whom were strong contenders. It made our job of selecting just 25 quite difficult, but it was also great to see how many inspirational and successful business women call the northern Plains home. We look forward to making this list an annual event. Read about this year’s selected honorees here.

This issue also includes several entrepreneurial-focused articles. I had the pleasure of sitting in on part of the first North Dakota Women’s Startup Weekend in late January, which was organized to promote entrepreneurship among women throughout the state. It was great to see so many budding female entrepreneurs working toward their goals. Their enthusiasm was matched only by that of the coaches, all successful female entrepreneurs, and I look forward to one day covering the launch of companies formed over the course of that weekend. Our digital edition includes a review of that event.

We also highlight Dakota Rising, an entrepreneur development program based in South Dakota. The program has supported a number of entrepreneurs in rural communities who have gone on to great success since its launch several years ago and may soon expand to include rural communities in other states. Read “Rising up” to learn more.

Read the entire issue here.

 

February Editor’s Note: Learn here, stay here

Workforce shortages have been an ongoing concern for nearly every industry in our area for some time, and with continued low unemployment and a strong and growing business climate it seems the situation will continue to persist for the near future. Individual community situations vary but in general the region’s overall workforce shortage can be blamed on two major factors: a lack of population to supply workers and a shortage of people who possess necessary skill sets to fill open jobs.

This month, we look at the role universities and research parks can play in combating both of those issues. I recently attended a symposium hosted by North Dakota State University’s Research and Technology Park to provide an overview of the park’s efforts to develop a new strategic plan that will meet the state’s changing needs. At the symposium it was noted that businesses are in need of workers from all levels of higher education and that the declining number of college-age students in the area makes out-of-state recruitment critical. The consultant contracted to devise a proposal for the new strategy was quick to point out what she called the region’s “gaping weakness,” which is that the area’s population is simply not large enough to provide all the people necessary to support its strong economies. Universities and research parks can be the most effective tool in recruiting new residents to the region, she said. Also, while higher education institutions currently collaborate with private industry, there is room for improvement and expansion of those efforts. Read “Filling the Need” for more on the topic.

This issue’s cover feature addresses one aspect of a very exciting announcement made at the end of 2013. Grand Forks, N.D., received federal designation as an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test site and is one of only six sites where UAS, commonly known as drones, will be integrated into the national airspace. That designation is expected to have a significant economic impact on the area as companies and researchers test equipment and develop the necessary protocols required to bring UAS into the market. One of the first industries expected to utilize UAS is agriculture and our region’s rich agricultural heritage and willingness of producers to incorporate new methods and technologies makes it a prime testing ground for UAS-related practices. Many of the area’s higher education institutions have already been teaching students about UAS and its potential to be an effective tool in precision ag. We highlight a few of them and discuss how commercial use could affect the farming industry in “Taking Ag to the Sky.”

Finally, we visit Fergus Falls, Minn., for this month’s Talk of the Town. The lakes country community of about 13,000 is experiencing growth by way of an expanding health care industry and a resurgence of manufacturing. The community is also expected to become home to a first-of-its-kind indoor commercial growing operation, supported by a USDA Rural Development loan, which will produce lettuce and eventually strawberries, herbs and spinach. Supporters say the project serves as yet another example of how value-added agriculture can benefit the region. Read “Expanding in all areas” to learn more about that project and other developments in Fergus Falls.

The entire digital issue is available on prairiebizmag.com.

 

Business leaders express optimism during Fergus Falls economic outlook

The Fergus Falls (Minn.) Economic Improvement Commission hosted an economic outlook session at the Bigwood Events Center in Fergus Falls on Jan. 28 to address opportunities and challenges facing the community in the coming year. Speakers offered their takes on the short-term future of the area’s largest industries and the community as a whole, which, according to nearly every speaker, can expect 2014 to be a year of continued economic recovery and growth.

Jeff Ackerson, president of Vector Windows, said the manufacturing industry is continuing a period of re-strengthening post-recession. Challenges facing manufacturers include uncertainty regarding regulations, changing health care requirements for workers and a lack of available workforce. However, individual companies remain confident in the future of their businesses despite these challenges.

Ackerson noted that regulatory uncertainty is particularly impactful for manufacturers in areas such as Fergus Falls, which are located within close proximity to states that do not have as stringent requirements in certain areas.

Larry Schulz, CEO of Lake Region Healthcare, said his organization will continue to expand in 2014. The organization will soon open a home medical supply store and hopes to begin constructing a new clinic later this year to accommodate its growing number of providers. By 2016, LRHC wants to add at least two additional specialty services as well, in addition to the multiple new specialties that have been added in the past three years. The number of providers at LRHC has grown from 46 to 71 in the past three years and the organization continues to recruit additional providers. He noted that the community had requested more female providers in a past survey and the organization has acted on that request by increasing the number of female providers from just four to 25 within the past four years.

LRHC is an independent organization and is one of just seven indepedent so-called “tweener” hospitals in Minnesota, which means it is not large enough to do complex procedures such as open-heart surgery but it is not small enough to be considered a critical access hospital. Schulz said he is frequently asked if LRHC will join a larger system and assured session attendees that the organization has no interest in joining with another system. He said he feels it is important for LRHC to remain independent to retain local control of operations and to ensure that providers can refer patients to specialists and other providers regardless of their affiliation.

Mark Helland, vice president of customer service at Otter Tail Power Co., said about half of the company’s nearly 800 employees work in Fergus Falls, amounting to an annual payroll of around $31 million. In 2012, the energy provider paid nearly $1.5 million in property taxes in Fergus Falls, making it a major contributor to the city’s economy. That situtation will likely change somewhat within the next decade as federal regulations require that the company’s coal-fired Hoot Lake power plant near Fergus Falls be phased out of commission. Brad Tollerson, director of resource planning and power services, said the company plans to carry out minimal upgrades at the power plant over the next few years and will shut down the facility in 2020. It remains to be determined whether a new facility will be built in the same location or elsewhere in the region. Tollerson noted that the most likely source of fuel for the new plant is natural gas and the Hoot Lake site does not currently have adequate gas supply infrastructure to support a gas-fired facility.

The Hoot Lake plant currently employs 45 people and is responsible for the bulk of property taxes the company pays to Fergus Falls, according to the company representatives. Helland said many of the plant’s employees are nearing retirement age so would likely retire on or before the plant’s closure. Remaining employees would be given opportunities at other locations. Helland further noted that the company is facing a massive turn-over throughout its workforce within the next decade – up to 40 percent of its employees are expected to retire within the next eight years. He said the company will focus on promoting the quality of life in Fergus Falls to attract new employees to the area. “If you don’t think it makes a difference, it really does,” he said.

Nearly every speaker during the morning-long session pointed to workforce shortages and a lack of skilled workers as areas of concern this year and into the future. A representative from Minnesota State Community and Technical College asked each speaker what the college could do to better train workers for each particular industry. Many speakers noted that recent high school graduates lack basic understanding of job responsibilities and several noted that math skills are severaly lacking among recent graduates. Others stressed the need for hands-on experience and suggested collaborative efforts to provide internships or other on-the-job training opportunities for students.

North Dakota launches new program to foster entrepreneurial growth

The North Dakota Department of Commerce announced today the official launch of its new Innovate ND program. The expanded program is focused on fostering innovation and accelerating venture formation and growth for entrepreneurs in the state.

“It is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in North Dakota,” Jared Stober, entrepreneurship program manager, said in a news release. “This new program is designed to capitalize on previous successes and brand development efforts, and move to the next level in helping entrepreneurs grow their business. The new features announced today are designed to help people with innovative ideas build a business no matter what stage they are at.”

Stober offered details on the development of expanded program  and its new features in the January issue of Prairie Business magazine.

Stober, who is new to the role of entrepreneurship program manager at the commerce department, brings a history of entrepreneurial success to the position. After graduating from UND with a business degree in marketing and entrepreneurship, he joined his family’s flax seed business, Flax USA, and expanded its distribution to a national level. His accomplishments won him recognition as one of the top 40 business people under the age of 40 in the December 2013 issue of Prairie Business.

 

TrainND Northeast offers professional development training classes

If your New Year’s resolution list includes ongoing education or professional development activities for yourself or your employees, a training series currently being offered by TrainND’s Northeast region may provide the opportunities needed to meet your goal.

“We firmly believe a business’s best asset is its people and we are excited to bring you relevant topics that will improve morale, increase efficiency and ultimately improve your bottom line,” Edie Armey, TrainND Northeast director, said in a news release.

Eleven classes will be offered at the Job Service ND office in Grand Forks, N.D., beginning this month. Topics to be covered will include leadership, communication, business writing, sales, management, presentation skills, attitude and computer applications. Classes are one-day sessions with the exception of two two-day Microsoft training courses. Fees per class range from $65 to $125 per attendee.

The Pembina and Walsh County Job Development Authorities (JDA) have sponsored additional training which will be provided through TrainND in Pembina, Park River, Grafton and Cavalier, N.D. Nine seminars will be offered over the course of the next three months and will cover topics including communication, conflict resolution, employee motivation and computer applications. Classes are one-day sessions and range in cost from $25 to $45 per attendee.

“Thanks to the JDA sponsorships, we are able to keep the class costs affordable for everyone,” Armey said. “Better yet, research proves that training employees improves morale, increases efficiency and ultimately improves your bottom line. People in the rural areas are the backbone of our region and helping them succeed is first and foremost the mission of TrainND Northeast.”

TrainND is a state-funded training agency designed to provide businesses access to relevant workforce training. Regional offices are housed at Williston State College, Lake Region State College, North Dakota State College of Science and Bismarck State College. For more information on the Northeast division’s most recent training programs, click here.

 

Luring them in

I recently sat in on a symposium held by the North Dakota State University Research and Technology Park to introduce the park’s development of a strategic plan to better meet the state’s changing needs. The keynote speaker of the symposium was Eva Klein of Eva Klein & Associates Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in assisting higher education institutions develop strategic plans and business models. Klein has been hired  to conduct an assessment of the park and will present her findings to its leadership in February. The results will be used to influence the park’s strategic plan.

Klein’s presentation offered an overall view of the higher education system and her vision for “the university of the 21st century.” Noting that she believes all 21st century industries fit into four categories — information technology, life sciences, advanced and sustainable manufacturing, and energy and environment — she urged attendees to envision the NDSU research park’s role in the 21st century and asked them to consider which categories the park can best serve.

While many of her comments were directed toward NDSU’s research park, they appeared to ring true for the entire region. Klein noted that the local financial economy is very strong, but cautioned that because the 21st century economy is a knowledge economy, human capital is extremely valuable. Therefore, population is extremely important and areas with small populations could be at a disadvantage. She displayed a graphic highlighting the fact that North Dakota (as well as South Dakota and Minnesota) are not included in any of the 10 projected Megapolitans of the future, and said, “It’s the one gaping weakness in your game and deserves attention.”

One of Klein’s suggestions to increase the area’s worker pool is for universities to offer a discount for out-of-state students. She suggested that the state’s universities are the single-best opportunity to attract new residents and so to charge a higher fee for non-resident students when the area so desperately needs out-of-state workers to help fill open jobs just doesn’t make sense.

What do you think? Is it feasible for area universities to charge out-of-state students less in hopes that they will stay and add to the area’s workforce? What other options are on the table for our higher education institutions to support the area’s ongoing need for workers? Email or comment with your suggestions. I’ll be exploring this issue in the February issue of the magazine and look forward to relaying the responses of area education leaders.