I was invited to a lunch at NDSU last week, where we heard from Swedish economist Johan Norberg. It was an honor to be invited by Dr. Scott Beaulier, head of the NDSU Business School and Challey Institute. In the room were several local dignitaries and I was honored to be included.
I'm not sure what I was most excited about, the world famous chicken ceaser salad (hey I'm a radio guy - the small things...), that I was going to share some time with a Swede (100% blood here) or the fact that I was going to speak to a guy who was going to talk to college kids about the downfalls of socialism.
At any rate, Mr. Norberg asked the group, about a dozen or so, about why the Fargo area has become such a hotbed for entrepreneurs and startups. Wade Wilson, the CEO of Pedigree Technologies, said it's a work ethic thing. People around here generally have family history that is ag related where you saw dad and granddad work 25 hours a day and maybe a few more on the weekend just for fun. Wade also said there is a "way" we do business here with a refreshing sincerity that plays well not just locally but nationally and globally as well. I added to his comment that I thought the relative youth of our business community means that we aren't all that far removed from those days when the rural life drove our existence. Think about it. Most of the families that you'd say are the iconic business names of the region (Tharaldson, Burgum, Melroe, Scheel) have only ascended to these ranks in the last 25-30 years. We don't really have Rockefellers and Fords in North Dakota, where the family wealth spans a century. Other reasons I believe make this such a healthy business community:
1. Low taxes. State and local taxes are not prohibitive. Workers Comp rates not bad either. A 7-iron to the east and things get different fast.
2. Modest wages. This is changing a bit these days as companies need to recruit and keep good people.
3. Great connectivity. Organizations like Emerging Prairie exist just to introduce people and promote conversation. We have a strong Chamber here. There are 3 colleges in this town as well. And many of the big names in business are simple people who still live here and are active in the community. You can find them and talk to them if you really want to. Try getting a lunch date with Jeff Bezos.
4. Creative Spirit. Tell me where else people are building a farmerless farm these days. People here think big and say why not. Fargo has a research and technology incubator. Not garden variety stuff in a community our size.
5. We are young. Our state has a young average population. Schools and Universities kick out brilliant minds on an annual basis. Sometimes they stay. Many times they come back.
I could go on. People here think big, are optimistic, and hardy (see January). It's a great time to be here and a great place. My conversations about the economy and the future are more positive than I understand they are in other places. And oh yeah, where else is the local business school bringing in speakers to rail against socialism?
It's good to be us.
It's good to be here.
Steve Hallstrom is President and Managing Partner at Flag Family Media (radio) and Fieldstone Group (public relations and consulting) in Fargo, ND. He also hosts a morning local radio news program 6-8:30 am on AM1100 WZFG.