Uber loves Fargo

Uber  launched its service in Fargo at precisely 11:30 a.m. today, marking the company’s entrance into the Dakotas. The company is known for disrupting the traditional taxi cab service model by utilizing an app-based model that allows anyone over the age of 21 with a vehicle, insurance and clean record to work as an independent contractor and provide transportation to customers who select them through the company’s app. The San Francisco-based company currently serves more than 300 cities worldwide.

Members of Fargo’s startup community gathered at Myriad Mobile headquarters in downtown Fargo for a lunch-and-learn session with Uber representatives to celebrate the company’s North Dakota launch. Sagar Shah, general manager of Uber expansion in North Dakota, credited Joe Burgum for aggressively courting the company for several years and for organizing support within Fargo and at the state level to pass legislation that allows companies like Uber to operate within the state. State Senator Jon Casper, who led the legislative efforts, spoke briefly at the session and told attendees the legislative experience was “great” but required a large amount of education for legislators in rural areas of the state that were not familiar with ride-hailing services.

Jim Gartin, CEO of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., also applauded the efforts of Burgum and other community members who helped pave the way for Uber’s entrance into Fargo, noting that services like Uber enhance the quality of life for residents and help attract skilled, educated workers to the community. “This is the type of thing they want,” he said.

Shah said Fargo’s growing tech community helped attract the company to the community but the city has been on Uber’s watch list for some time. He noted that in the last six months, the company’s app recorded 7,500 unique “looks” from people in Fargo; 30 percent of them were from locals.

On the day of the launch, Shah said “dozens” of people had been approved as Uber drivers in Fargo. He expects that number will continue to grow as more people become aware of the service. According to the company, drivers can expect to make around $20 per hour and are covered under Uber’s insurance policy when they are providing the service, so their personal insurance is not affected. It was noted that Uber has five times as many women drivers as traditional cab companies, which Shah credited to the company’s safety measures.

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney was “customer zero” in Fargo. He was offered the chance to use the service and tried it to gain a better understanding of how it works. “I thought the app was really useful because it allowed me to see information about the driver,” he said. “That takes the guess work out of it for users.”

Mahoney said he hopes Uber will help fill the need for drivers during peak times of demand, such as bar closing times. “I’d rather people get a ride after they’ve been drinking than drive themselves,” he said.

According to Shah, the company has no performance benchmark for the Fargo market. It’s only goal is to provide “as many rides as possible,” he said. The company is celebrating its launch by offering users three free rides during the first week of service by using the promo code FARGOFREE.

Uber intends to expand its North Dakota service to Bismarck next, although there is no timeline set yet for service to begin there. Uber does not currently provide service to any cities in South Dakota, although Shah said communities such as Sioux Falls offer potential new markets. In Minnesota, the company currently provides services in the Minneapolis area.

Work like a woman

In my constant quest to consume information, I recently stumbled across an article on the disparities between the salaries of male and female actors that included a tweet someone had sent to a female celebrity, requesting advice on how to respond to a father who had told his daughter she couldn’t become an engineer because she was a girl. The response? “Become an engineer.”

I couldn’t agree more with that statement and neither could the 25 women selected as this year’s top women in business. Our second annual list of the top 25 women in business on the northern Plains includes engineers, as well as CEOs, business owners, researchers, tech experts, bankers, and a number of other careers that at one time were considered male careers. Some of the women were trailblazers in their professions, all of them have achieved notable accomplishments in work and in their communities, and nearly all of them say they succeeded not because they were women, but because it didn’t matter to them that they were women. Many of the honorees shared examples with me of overcoming adversity or simply choosing not to acknowledge it as they pursued their passions. That’s not to say these women were never scared as they set out on their paths. As Laurel Nelson, who trained as a nurse but has been a serial entrepreneur for more than two decades, said: “I’m afraid a lot, but I do things anyway.” Read more about Laurel and the rest of this year’s honorees here. Congratulations to all of the honorees.

Check out the entire March issue of the magazine here.



February issue now online

One of my first assignments after joining this magazine was to attend the lavish groundbreaking celebration for Sanford’s Fargo Medical Center. (See “Sanford begins building Fargo medical center”)

It was a much to-do affair, part pep rally, part concert for the organization’s thousands of employees who were bused in from throughout the northern Plains to take part in the celebration. I remember looking across the area destined to become the medical center, which more closely resembled a music festival venue at that time, wondering how a multi-story, half-billion-dollar medical center would fit in to its surroundings and whether the project would advance as predicted. Two years remain to completion, but the trampled grass I stood on that hot July night has since been replaced with mounds of moved Earth, massive machinery and a towering multi-story steel structure. Progress is most definitely being made on this project, which ranks among the largest health care construction projects in the country and is so far on schedule and on budget, according to Sanford officials. Read “Reshaping Fargo’s skyline” for an update and description of what Sanford leaders believe will make this medical center uniquely suited for patient care.

Workforce continues to make its way into every issue, but this month we are happy to deliver some positive forward movement in efforts to resolve the regional shortage of skilled workers. Rob Swenson covers South Dakota’s recently announced Build Dakota scholarship program in his feature, “Taking Aim at Workforce Shortage.” The program, launched through a 50-50 partnership between the state and its most prolific philanthropist, Denny Sanford, will provide full scholarships to the state’s technical schools for 300 students every year for five years, after which an endowment fund will provide 50 full-ride scholarships annually. The program presents some solid movement toward recognizing the need for workers. Of course, the critical shortages being experienced throughout industries in the area will not be entirely solved by 300 students a year, but it’s a step in the right direction.

You can’t talk about higher education without at least thinking about student loan debt, so this issue also includes a look at an innovative program launched recently by the Bank of North Dakota to help state residents pay back their loans. The DEAL One program is geared specifically toward North Dakota residents, which could also boost the state’s efforts to attract and retain workers. Read “Lessening the Student Loan Load” for details.

Finally, our Business Insider this month is Klaus Thiessen, CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. He was recently honored by the North Dakota commerce department as the state’s economic developer of the year and is likely to be in the news frequently this year as his group leads efforts to expand the region’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry and continues to pursue opportunities to diversify and strengthen the northern Red River Valley’s hub city. Read “Go-To Guy” to learn why the UAS industry, and Grand Forks businesses in general, are in good hands.

For the entire issue, visit http://www.prairiebizmag.com/pages/pb_2015_february.

Giving Props to Women in Business

Women may still represent a minority of U.S. business leaders, but in the northern Plains, women represent a large component of the region’s workforce and many of them are serving in leadership roles.

Analysis recently released by the New York Times highlights the high employment rates of women in the upper Midwest, which it attributes at least partially to strong economies and good education opportunities for women.

But we already knew about the power of women in the workplace. Last year, we launched the region’s first Top 25 Women in Business contest to highlight the many female professionals in our area who are making significant impacts on business and their communities. We anticipated a great response, but were overwhelmed at the number of deserving candidates brought to our attention through the nomination process.

So we’re doing it again.

Our March issue will highlight this year’s Top 25 Women in Business. We need you to nominate those deserving of this recognition and let us pay tribute to the hard-working, multi-tasking, ridiculously talented businesswomen who are making a difference in their communities in the Dakotas and western Minnesota. We want to let them, and the world, know that the region appreciates and recognizes their hard work. Nominations are being accepted now through Jan. 30. Click here to tell us who you think deserves to be on this list.



Construction Corner: Meeting the need for medical personnel

In late 2013, the University of North Dakota began building a new medical school in Grand Forks, N.D., to meet the growing need for medical personnel throughout the region. At more than 325,000 square feet, the larger facility will allow the university’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences to increase its medical school enrollment by 62 students and its health sciences enrollment by 90 students. Post-graduate residency enrollment will also be expanded by a total of 51 residents. Estimated to cost nearly $124 million, the project is being funded through the state of North Dakota and should be complete in mid-2016.

The January issue of Prairie Business magazine includes details on the parties involved in taking this project vertical and what the final product will look like. Construction is expected to reach its peak this spring and by the time the building is finished more than 1,500 trade workers will have put in 450,000 hours of work into the project. Click here to read the story.

Prairie Business January issue: New year, new sections

Congratulations on making it to another New Year! As a child, I never quite embraced the significance of celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of another — the 1st of January felt and looked exactly the same as the 31st of December, so what was the big deal? While I still think there’s something to be said for that, as I have grown older I have come to appreciate the reasons people commemorate the annual changing of the calendars — an awful lot can happen over the course of 12 months and the New Year is often the only time we give ourselves to look back at what we’ve achieved and endured, and look forward with an optimistic eye toward learning from the past year’s experiences.

While I’m not a rabid resolution-maker, I do see the New Year as a great opportunity to make changes, and we’ve made a few here at the magazine that I’m happy to introduce to you this month. First, we’ve opened up our column section to include contributions on all topics related to the region’s business community. By inviting businesses, researchers and community leaders to share their insight with us, we hope to better inform our readers on the many areas of interest in the northern Plains — from leadership advice to research breakthroughs, financial wisdom and industry updates.

Second, we’re going to profile an influential business person each month in a section called Business Insider. We kick off this new section with contributing writer Rob Swenson’s profile of McGowan Capital Group founder Gene McGowan — a self-made man by all accounts who turned a love of music into a 20-year career in the military before ultimately diving into the financial industry. He’s highly regarded among the Sioux Falls business community for his financial expertise and business know-how and, as you will quickly see in reading Rob’s piece, for being a really nice guy. Read more in “From music man to financial expert.”

We’re also launching a new section this month called Construction Corner which will highlight a different major construction project under way in our region each month. Construction trades and project developers are well aware of the many projects taking place throughout the northern Plains, but we realize that it’s hard for many others to keep up on the tremendous pace of development occurring throughout the area. This section aims to offer a few details on some of the most unique and largest projects being built.

I encourage readers to contact me with suggested subjects for the Business Insiders and Construction Corner sections. Also, if you are interested in submitting a column for consideration, contact me for details. We love to hear from readers and are happy to consider your suggestions.

Finally, it is with a bit of sadness that we say good-bye to our executive editor, Rona Johnson, who managed to find a place colder than North Dakota to call home. She is moving on to serve as publisher for a suite of publications in Alaska, and we wish her the best of luck. We’ll visit in the summer.

Click here to read the entire January issue.


Prairie Business launches 2015 Top 25 Women in Biz contest

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Prairie Business magazine is accepting nominations for its “Top 25 Women in Business” contest through Jan. 30. Nominations can be submitted online at prairiebizmag.com.

Now in its second year, the contest was created to draw attention to the many amazing and talented female professionals in the Dakotas and western Minnesota. More than 100 women were nominated for last year’s list and they were all strong candidates. See who made the final list here.

We are thrilled to bring the contest back for its second year and look forward to your nominations. The deadline to submit nominations is Jan. 30, so don’t wait! To be eligible, candidates must live and work within the Dakotas or western Minnesota and may not have received the award previously. Submission forms are available on our website. Recipients will be named in our March 2015 issue.


December issue names region’s top 40 under 40

Some of you may have heard me joke over the past month or so that reviewing nominations for our annual 40 Under 40 list always makes me feel lazy. This is not entirely true, although after imagining the hectic days that some of our nominees must endure, I do suddenly have the urge to take a nap. (Really, multiple kids, a full-time career, a passion project on the side and a full list of volunteer work? How is this possible?)

But mostly, I emerge from the nomination review and selection process feeling newly motivated to share with our readers the stories of young professionals throughout our region who can truly inspire all of us to do more. To strive for more professionally, to contribute more to our communities and to embrace the nonstop work of advancing our region in an economic sense as well as in a social sense. 

We received more than 200 nominations this year, a new record, which I believe illustrates the power of the millennial generation as well as the deep bench of incredibly skilled professionals in our region. We are fortunate to have so many young, extremely talented members of the region’s business community and we sincerely congratulate all of this year’s honorees. Read “Promising Young Professionals” for this year’s list.

As this is our final issue of 2014, I think it’s also appropriate to reflect a bit on the year that has so quickly passed. Trending at the top of topics of interest among the region’s business communities this year have no question been workforce shortages and efforts to recruit and retain millennial workers. We’ve often covered these hot issues, sometimes not intentionally, as they tend to creep into all areas of business in the region.

This issue, for example, covers Fargo-Moorhead as the subject of our Talk of the Town article. This monthly article has often served as an avenue to provide readers with an overview of a community and its business sector in general. This month, however, the article took a different twist. Fargo has enjoyed a newfound role as a media darling of sorts this year as its economy has boomed and young entrepreneurs aggressively market the metro as a hip, quirky urban center. But the elephant in the room is that the metro’s shortage of workers rivals the Bakken region in terms of severity and without a resolution, the state’s historic economic powerhouse faces a leveling off for no other reason than there are just not enough people to meet business demands.

Other articles this month also address workforce and young workers, specifically. Contributing writer Rob Swenson follows up on the reported record number of exhibitors at university career fairs for future engineers in his article, “Mining for engineers.” He learned that while companies once recruited new hires in the spring, they are now finding that if they don’t have a student signed on by winter, they’re too late. Students also have the luxury of choosing their employer, so the race to attract new hires has become increasingly competitive.

In “Building a better project,” we highlight some of the cutting-edge technology being used to build Essentia Health’s medical facility expansion in south Fargo. As an interesting side note, hospital officials also shared that construction crews working on the project had to add additional security measures on the ground to prevent headhunters from visiting the site and luring workers away.

As we look ahead to the new year, we anticipate workforce and millennials will remain topics of interest to the community. We look forward to continuing to bring you slices of business life and encourage you to continue sharing your input with us. And despite the challenges, we are happy to toast a successful 2014 and even more fulfilling new year!

Read the entire December issue here.


Fergus Falls honors manufacturers with annual breakfast

City and business leaders in Fergus Falls, Minn., gathered for an early morning breakfast Oct. 30 to show their appreciation for the more than 30 manufacturers that have locations in the community. The 8th annual Manufacturers’ Appreciation Breakfast offered a chance for manufacturers to network with industry peers and get updates on community initiatives to help the industry continue to succeed. For city leaders, the breakfast was a chance to give thanks to an industry that plays an important role in Fergus Falls’ economy.

Sponsors of this year’s event included the Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Commission, MN DEED, West Central Initiative, the Fergus Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Tri-State Manufacturers Association, American Federal Bank, Bank of the West, Bell State Bank & Trust, Bremer Bank, Metso/StoneL Otter Tail Power Co., Security State Bank and U.S. Bank.

Prairie Business was honored to attend the event to help recognize one of Fergus Falls’ manufacturers for being named to our 2014 50 Best Places to Work list. Northern Contours produces a number of composite products for use in residential spaces, retail and other applications. The company employs more than 200 people at two facilities in Fergus Falls and was nominated for the award by its employees, who noted the company’s family-like atmosphere, great benefits and willingness to listen to their input as reasons why they enjoy working there.

In his comments, Northern Contours President and COO Lary Skow shared that the culture which earned the company its place on the magazine’s best place to work list reflects a recent shift in focus. In fact, he told attendees that less than two years ago the culture at Northern Contours was nearly the complete opposite of what it is today – and the company’s profitability was being affected by it. The turn-around was difficult and required a restructuring of leadership and a renewed commitment to showing appreciation for the people who work at the company’s facilities. The hard work has paid off, and the company is once again enjoying an upward trajectory, thanks in no small part to improved morale, as confirmed by its employees’ willingness to nominate the company as a great place to work.

Hats off again to Northern Contours and all of the recipients on our first annual Best Places to Work list.

We asked, you listened

Wow. Nominations closed last Friday, Oct. 17, for Prairie Business magazine’s 7th annual 40 under 40 list and as our team begins reading through the more than 200 entries we received, we are once again blown away by the incredible talent that exists in our region’s stock of young professionals.

Every December, we publish a list of the top 40 business professionals under the age of 40 in the Dakotas and western Minnesota, based upon nominations submitted by our readers. The list of nominees and their business and community contributions never fails to disappoint and regularly leaves this editor feeling like a major slacker. Past lists have honored entrepreneurs, community leaders, scientists, engineers and architects, marketing gurus, technology experts and more. (Refresh your memory with a look at 2013 and 2012 lists.)

Having said that, this year’s whopping 249 nominations far exceeded our expectations. As we pore over each entry’s details, we have very quickly realized that our task of narrowing it down to 40 is going to be ridiculously challenging. Thank you to everyone who nominated and drew attention to the many young people in our region deserving of this recognition. We can’t wait to share the list with you in December’s issue.