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Erik Burgess, Published February 16 2013

Microsoft could expand Fargo campus by 2015

FARGO – Microsoft is going through some growing pains in south Fargo, which could be alleviated with an expansion as early as 2015.

The computer giant’s local branch, the area’s largest employer in the technology sector, is running near 100 percent occupancy in its three buildings on the main campus, said Don Morton, Microsoft Fargo site leader, and with projected “significant growth,” two new buildings are being considered.

“We know our buildings are full now, and so we have to go out into the lease market, which we are exploring,” he said. “And we also know in the long run, it’s better business to build your own rather than to lease.”

Microsoft already leases space at Woodhaven Plaza in south Fargo, which holds about 170 employees, Morton said, and more leasing will happen in the near future until new buildings can be constructed on campus.

Morton would not comment on details of expansion plans or how many jobs the expansion would bring.

An estimated 900 employees worked at the south Fargo Great Plains Software campus when it was acquired by Microsoft in 2001. That number has since ballooned to 1,800, and is projected to hit 2,700 in the company’s long-range plans, Morton said.

Craig Whitney, president and CEO of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, said he would be a “champion and advocate” for an expansion of Microsoft.

“Having them here is a very, very positive thing for the city and the region,” Whitney said.

Microsoft is already the largest technology employer in the area, 2011 data from the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp. shows. For full-time employees, it ranks seventh out of all businesses, the EDC states.

Morton cautioned that the expansion is far from certain. Many corporations are hesitant about investing in capital spending because of issues with the national and global economy, he said.

“We need immigration reform so bad,” he said. “We don’t create enough engineers in our country, so immigration reform is critical to our future growth.”

The Fargo campus has a “fairly significant workforce” of foreign nationals who are currently working on visas and would be benefited by a clearer path to citizenship, Morton said.

He said “more clarity” on the direction of the national economy is needed before a shovel can be put into the ground. Construction on one of the two buildings could start in 2015, at the earliest.

“We do have to plan, but the hard decisions haven’t been made,” he said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518