Sept. editor’s note: Culture creates award-winning workplaces

The September issue of Prairie Business magazine includes the results of our Best Places to Work contest.

We’re also sharing some of the insights we’ve learned throughout the survey process regarding what it takes to make a workplace great. From flexible workdays to in-house fitness centers and paid time off for service missions, the 50 companies you’re going to read about represent a diverse number of ways businesses can boost their employee recruitment and retention strategies. In an area with extremely low unemployment and rapid economic growth, we’re happy to share some of their stories with you and recognize them for making employee happiness and well-being a priority.

Having never conducted a contest of this type before, we weren’t sure what to expect but we were blown away by the outpouring of responses we received. Nearly 2,000 surveys were submitted and more than 100 companies received nominations. We sincerely thank every employee who took time to participate and share with us why they like their workplace. We look forward to making this contest an annual event and hope to expand it in future years to include nonprofit groups and other niche categories.

Creating a successful culture is certainly worthy of recognition. As Tonya Stende, president of Dale Carnegie Business Group of North Dakota, points out, creating and implementing a truly successful culture initiative is a lifetime commitment for management. It’s also a financial commitment on behalf of the company. But, if done right, good company culture more than pays for itself in the long-run. Studies have proven that satisfied employees are more productive and more likely to stick with their employer.

Many of the comments on surveys we received confirmed what leadership experts have been preaching for years — salary is not the most important aspect of a job. While pay increases are certainly always appreciated, higher pay rarely topped employees’ wish lists when asked what improvements could be made to make their jobs better. They were much more likely to cite issues that culture initiatives could address, such as relationships with their managers, belief in leadership and pride in their workplace. Contributing writer Rob Swenson covered the employee perspective in his article, “What Employees Really Want,” and reported on several of the issues commonly mentioned in survey responses. Some, such as workforce shortages, are regional issues and not quickly solvable by companies. Others, such as recognition for good performance and input in company decisions, can be resolved fairly easily by making those items part of the company culture.

As you read this issue, I hope that you will think about your company culture and perhaps implement a few tweaks to the initiative if you recognize a need, or pat yourself on the back if you recognize your company in the comments about what makes a workplace great. We all spend a great deal of time at our workplace. Let’s enjoy it.


Nominations requested for annual 40 Under 40 list

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Prairie Business magazine is now accepting nominations for its annual 40 under 40 list, which recognizes 40 of the top business professionals under the age of 40 in the Dakotas and western Minnesota. Submissions will be accepted through the magazine’s website – – through Oct. 17. Results will be published in the December issue of the magazine.

“We know there are a large number of young professionals in our region who are making significant impacts in their chosen profession, industry and communities,” said Editor Kris Bevill. “We’re looking for the cream of the crop, whether they be entrepreneurs, industry experts, executives, or nonprofit or community leaders. Previous honorees have included business owners, patent holders, venture capitalists, corporate executives, economic developers and community trendsetters. We can’t wait to see which inspiring individuals come across our pages this year.”

To be eligible for the award, nominees must be 39 years old or younger on Dec. 31, 2014. Past winners of the award are not eligible. Nomination submissions must include a brief biography of the candidate’s accomplishments and career history.

“We look forward to the 40 Under 40 issue every year and are always impressed by the high caliber of young talent that exists in our region,” said Executive Editor Rona Johnson. “This annual list is a great way to recognize the best and brightest young business leaders in the northern Plains and a great way for companies to promote the accomplishments of their new crop of leaders.”

To submit nominations for the list, visit Nominations are currently being accepted and can be submitted through Oct. 17.

Prairie Business magazine announces 50 Best Places to Work

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – The September issue of Prairie Business magazine will celebrate the 50 Best Places to Work in the northern Plains. Companies were nominated through an anonymous employee satisfaction survey and rated in areas including work environment, employee benefits and employee happiness. Consideration was also given to the number of nominations received per company. The top 25 small for-profit companies (99 or fewer full-time employees) and the top 25 large for-profit companies (100+ employees) will be honored in the magazine, which will be available Aug. 29 on

“We congratulate all of this year’s honorees,” said Kris Bevill, editor. “From flexible workdays to in-house fitness centers and paid time off for service missions, these employers represent a diverse number of ways businesses can boost their employee recruitment and retention strategies. In an area with extremely low unemployment and rapid economic growth, we’re happy to share their stories and highlight the companies who make employee happiness and well-being a priority.”

This was the first time Prairie Business has hosted a Best Places to Work contest and is believed to be the first time this type of contest has been held for the region. Nearly 2,000 surveys were submitted and more than 100 companies received nominations, said Rona Johnson, executive editor. “We sincerely thank everyone who participated in the contest,” she said. “We look forward to expanding the contest in coming years to include non-profit organizations and specific sectors of our region’s diverse business community.”

This year’s top 25 large employers include (listed in alphabetical order):

Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services Inc.

Applied Engineering Inc.

AVI Systems

Bartlett & West

Bilfinger Westcon Inc.

BNC National Bank

Border States Electric

Dakota Supply Group

Eide Bailly

Fisher Industries

First International Bank & Trust

Gate City Bank

Houston Engineering

Integrity Windows and Doors

Intelligent Insites Inc.


Marco Inc.

National Information Solutions Cooperative

North Dakota Guaranty & Title Co.

Northern Contours


Schuneman Equipment Co.

Vogel Law Firm

WCCO Belting Inc.


This year’s top 25 small companies include (listed in alphabetical order):


All-Terrain Grounds Maintenance Inc.

Bismarck Aero Center

Click Rain Inc.

Dawson Insurance Agency

DFC Consultants Inc.

Flint Communications

High Point Networks LLC

Hotel Donaldson


Integrity Viking Funds

JLG Architects

Kilbourne Group

Lawrence & Schiller

Myriad Mobile

NetWork Center Inc.

Nexus Innovations Inc.

Preference Personnel

Posi Lock Puller Inc.

Spectrum Aeromed

Steamatic of the Red River Valley

Sterling Carpet One

Stoneridge Software

Summit Group Software Inc.

About Prairie Business magazine: For more than 12 years, Prairie Business magazine has served as the only business-to-business magazine dedicated to the northern Plains region. More than 21,000 print and digital copies are distributed monthly. The magazine focuses on the success and opportunities in the northern Plains states of North Dakota, South Dakota and western Minnesota and covers a variety of general business interest topics including higher education, finance, architecture and engineering, agribusiness, energy, health care, economic development, tourism, technology and construction. For more information, visit

August issue editor’s note: Reshaping the ‘workplace’

There is a revolution happening in the workplace today and it is redefining what it means to go to “work.” Millenials crave freedom in the workplace and want to be able to work whenever, and wherever, they choose. Technology enables this to happen, offering anyone with a smart phone and an Internet connection the ability to set up a virtual office. It has also given rise to a new type of office space-as-a-business industry, which is being embraced by entrepreneurs, tech professionals, freelancers and entrepreneurs across the country. It’s called coworking.

The concept behind coworking is to offer an alternative to remote workers, who otherwise would work from home or set up temporary daily office spaces in coffee shops or other public spaces. Remote workers make up a growing segment of the working population, partly due to the previously mentioned affinity of millenials to avoid traditional office settings and partly due to the realization by some companies that providing office space for their workers is simply no longer necessary or cost effective. Coworking facilities offer remote workers and small startups the chance to rent a space, whether it be access to a communal work area or a designated space within the facility, providing them with a professional workplace as well as the camaraderie of shared office space.

In August, Minneapolis-based CoCo will expand its coworking business to include a space in Fargo. In “Collaboration Central,” we cover the ins and outs of coworking and why CoCo chose Fargo for its first expansion project. We also check in with Meso in Sioux Falls, S.D., which has been offering coworking spaces for several years and recently came under new ownership. Owners of both facilities say the collaborative atmosphere is the most attractive aspect of coworking for many of their members. In CoCo’s case, collaborations at its workspaces have even resulted in new companies being formed. Company leaders hope to achieve the same results in Fargo, perhaps even fostering collaborations between entrepreneurs in Fargo and the Twin Cities.

If collaboration and shared space fosters new startups, then the newly launched Fargo Startup House is sure to inspire new ventures. The house, located in a north Fargo residential neighborhood, will provide free room and board — and the fastest Internet access around — to six tech startups with the hope that they will grow their business ideas into a successful venture that will improve the world in some way. Selected participants will receive an initial six-month stay, with the option to possibly extend their time in the house. The concept of the startup house is a little like 24/7 coworking with a splash of dorm life and HBO’s Silicon Valley. Houses similar to the Fargo Startup House have been in play in Kansas City, thanks to the Google Fiber project, for some time and have been well-received. Attorney Miguel Danielson, who bought the Fargo house and worked with a group of supporters including the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp. to get his project off the ground, hopes to have similar success in Fargo.

Projects like coworking spaces and startup houses provide new support to the region’s entrepreneurial community, which is strong and continuing to grow. Further to this effort is UND’s new School of Entrepreneurship, which will launch this fall as part of the university’s College of Business and Public Administration. Bruce Gjovig, founder of the Center for Innovation, which will serve as the school’s practitioner, says the timing has never been better to place emphasis on entrepreneurship throughout the university’s programs. “What a better time to get more people more entrepreneurial thinking that at a time of growth,” he says.

Local entrepreneurs are expected to play a major role in providing training to students of the entrepreneurship school. For details, read “Elevating entrepreneurship.”

Finally, this issue also zeros in on the importance of pheasant hunting to many local economies in South Dakota. In many small towns, the start of pheasant hunting every fall is the make-or-break time for businesses ranging from the service industry to retail stores. It is a celebratory time for many communities, but a recent decline in pheasant numbers has state officials as well as wildlife advocacy groups concerned over the future of the hunt within the state. In “Keeping Hunting on Target,” contributing writer Rob Swenson provides perspective on the impact of the sport and upcoming efforts to sustain it.

Read the entire August issue here.

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.