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Angie Wieck, Published September 26 2013

Topeka delegation visits Fargo-Moorhead to learn about keeping young people in community

FARGO – “Why Fargo?” A delegation of 30 business and civic leaders from Topeka, Kan., hope to answer that question during a visit here Thursday and today.

The visit is part of an InterCity Benchmarking Exchange organized by the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

The program, launched in 2002, sends leaders to visit and learn from communities of similar size. When selecting a location, organizers look to Forbes and other national publications that rate cities on criteria such as economic growth.

Christy Caldwell, the Topeka chamber’s vice president of government relations, said Fargo has been on their radar for some time.

“Fargo had us intrigued in the fact that over the years they seem to rate very, very high, sometimes within the top five cities, in the small city category for economic growth,” Caldwell said.

She said the Topeka delegation is particularly interested in learning how Fargo and Moorhead have attracted young people to their educational institutions and what they have done to retain graduates in the local workforce.

“We are very interested in growing our population and attracting and keeping our young people in our community,” Caldwell said.

Doug Burgum, former CEO of Great Plains Software and co-founder and chairman of the Kilbourne Group and Arthur Ventures, kicked off the group’s visit Thursday with presentation, “Why Fargo?”

He said one of the keys to the success of Great Plains Software was recruiting and using this area’s intellectual capital.

After Microsoft purchased the company in 2001, several early Great Plains recruits went on to secure executive positions within Microsoft offices in Redmond, Wash., and that has benefited the Fargo campus.

“We added a lot to Microsoft in terms of the talent pool that they have,” Burgum said. “We have those people based in Redmond that can be advocates and understand that Fargo is not just a dot on a map, but a place where great software gets built and where people work.”

He pointed out that what worked in recruiting young talent 30 years ago is less likely to work today.

Most young millenials are not interested in having a house with a three-car garage in some suburban area, Burgum said. They want to live in a place where they can walk or ride a bike to work or to interact socially with others.

He said companies need to be careful about developing on the edge of town where the land is cheap if they expect to attract young professionals.

“Economic development and revitalizing cities is directly linked to how great a downtown you have,” Burgum said.

He showcased what Fargo appears to be doing right downtown and what he thinks could benefit it in the future.

The learning trip resumes today with visits to the North Dakota State University Research and Technology Park and the Offutt School of Business at Concordia College.

Caldwell said the delegation wants to learn more about the Tri-College University system.

Sessions about entrepreneurship, workforce training, and neighborhood redevelopment are also planned.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501