By Tracy Briggs
Fargo-Moorhead’s business community has been described as vibrant and exciting by leading business experts and analysts around the country.
The Milken Institute called Fargo the number one best performing small city in 2015, which bases the ranking on how well metropolitan areas are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth. In the meantime, U.S. News and World Report called Fargo the number one city for finding a job. These accolades come on the heels of other reports that put Fargo-Moorhead in the top five best and most secure places to live in the nation.
Let’s hope someone is buying a really big trophy case.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that, as the national acclaim grows, so does the population of Fargo-Moorhead. According to census figures, the population has risen from approximately 208,000 in 2000 to approximately 224,000 in 2015. The Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation (GFMEDC) estimates the population will exceed 250,000 by 2020. Today’s population includes a highly-trained workforce in fields ranging from healthcare and education to agriculture and emerging technology.
Healthcare services and hospitals lay claim to the number one and number three employers in Fargo-Moorhead. Sanford Health in Fargo employs more than 6,660 people throughout its network of clinics and medical centers in the metropolitan area, while Essentia Health employs about 3,100.
Education takes second and fourth place in employment numbers. North Dakota State University has about 4,200 full-time employees serving as faculty or administration, in staff, support services and much more. Fargo Public Schools District is the fourth largest employer with 1,800 full-time workers.
By all accounts the workforce in the area gets a collective thumbs-up for attitude and performance. Approximately 136,000 people are employed in the metro-area and 95 percent of existing Fargo-Moorhead employers rate their employees productivity as “good” or “excellent.”
According to Jim Gartin, the GFMEDC president, “Fargo-Moorhead’s labor market epitomizes the Midwestern work ethic. Local employers enjoy a stable base of employees with high productivity, low turnover and low absenteeism.”
The unemployment rate in Fargo-Moorhead was 2.7 percent as of June 2016, well below the national average of 4.9 percent.
Just Starting Out
With Fargo-Moorhead’s state universities, private colleges and technical schools, there is no shortage of talented newcomers hoping to join the workforce. Approximately 35,000 people attend college in Fargo-Moorhead and more of them are electing to stay in the region to build their careers.
According to a published report in the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota census figures show there’s also been a dramatic increase in the number of 20- to 24-year-olds moving into the state over the past decade. Kevin Iverson, manager of the Census Office at the North Dakota Department of Commerce told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, many of the 25 -to 29-year-olds are also staying.
“In other words, people are settling here and having children,” he said.
Iverson said young people have been attracted by the fact that North Dakota—Fargo, in particular—was virtually untouched by the recession that hit the rest of the country. “I believe it speaks to North Dakota becoming a destination for success,” he said.
Because of the growing business climate, many are successful in finding work in their field of study. In 2015, ZipRecruiter, a website that gathers and distributes hiring and job market data, ranked Fargo the number one college town to find a job.
According the article, the trend is similar with high school students. Surveys done by Fargo Public Schools over the past three years show anywhere from 55 to 65 percent of high school seniors say they plan to get a job in the Fargo area when they’re done with school. “The numbers show a 180-degree turnaround,” according to former Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams, who told The Forum he keeps a close eye on trends at Fargo schools.
You don’t need to be a new high school or college graduate to be just starting out. Entrepreneurs find a welcoming spirit in the Red River Valley and Fargo-Moorhead. Downtown Fargo has witnessed a renaissance of fresh ideas, businesses and restaurants that has revitalized the entire community.
Fargo has been ranked the top city in the state for entrepreneurial startups according to Business Week. Meantime, in 2014, Forbes said Fargo was the best small city for business and careers.
In addition to benefitting from the entrepreneurial spirit of the community, local businesses grow and flourish because of their relationships with the colleges and universities in town.
“Businesses here are benefiting from world-class education and research, unique advanced facilities, and strong industry-university partnerships,” according to Gartin.
The Valley Prosperity Project
While area business and community leaders celebrate the recent economic growth and prosperity of the region, they’re not willing to rest on their laurels. They understand things can get even better. In 2013, after a $100,000 investment from William C. Marcil Sr., Forum Communications Company Chairman, leaders in the private sector met with university and economic development experts to form the Valley Prosperity Partnership (VPP). The goal of the VPP is to identify common strategic economic development opportunities in the entire Red River Valley region. In an interview with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Tammy Miller, CEO of Border States Electric and co-chairwoman of the VPP steering committee, said many businesses are finding it hard to attract talented workers and she said business leaders need to be better at alerting young people to attractive job opportunities here.
“We have a lot of great jobs, good-paying jobs in our communities and a lot of students don’t even know these jobs exist,” Miller said.
The areas in which the VPP will concentrate are:
- Advocating the valley’s interests and concerns to state and federal elected officials
- Leveraging and promoting existing resources and creating new programs and resources that address gaps or limitations
- Strengthening public and private sector partnerships and communication
- Building upon the valley’s research and higher education strengths
- Influencing current and future public policy strategically developing clear and transparent performance measures to gauge impact
VPP committee members hope to collaborate and work closely with economic development organizations to make a positive impact throughout the Red River Valley by building upon core strengths and high-value resources, working to reduce barriers to growth, and further distinguishing the region.
Together with Fargo-Moorhead’s committed workforce, quality educational institutions, and flourishing workplaces, the business climate in Fargo-Moorhead has the potential to flourish well into the next decade.
The preceding story is published in Impact: The magazine for Fargo-Moorhead business and industry 2016