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Tax Reform Framework Recap with Rep. Cramer

October 19th, 2017 by Amanda Hofland

Earlier this week, we welcomed ND Congressman Kevin Cramer to The Chamber for a special discussion on tax reform. Prompted by talks at the federal level, this roundtable allowed local business leaders and Chamber board members to learn the specifics and weigh in with their questions and concerns.

Chamber Cramer visit

The Unified Tax Reform Framework follows a plan put together by the Trump administration and Congress. It has four main goals: to make the tax code simple, fair and easy to understand; give American workers a pay raise; and level the playing field and make America the jobs magnet of the world.

Cramer explained a few highlights of the plan, which include shrinking the current seven tax brackets into three for individuals and families, repealing the death tax and alternative minimum tax, creating a lower tax rate and structure for small businesses, allowing expensing of capital investments, and more.

“Part of The Chamber’s public policy agenda is to connect businesses with political leaders for healthy discussion,” Chamber President & CEO Craig Whitney said. “I think our event did just that, and our members were able to walk away with more information on the issue and feeling heard from our leaders in Washington. The Chamber was the perfect venue for discussing reforming the tax code. Ninety percent of our members are small businesses. If this is to go through as discussed, it could be the largest tax cut in the history of our country.”

“This tax reform has had the advantage of going second,” Cramer said. “The failure of health care [reform] has a lot to do with being first and not having the luxury of time that tax reform has had.”

He also explained their idea for “postcard” tax filing – an idea that with such a simplified tax system, up to 96% of Americans could complete their taxes on a sheet the size of a postcard. “These 14 lines could provide everything the IRS would need to process [your return],” he said.

tax postcard

Thank you to AM 1100 The Flag for broadcasting the meeting live statewide during Scott Hennen’s show, What’s On Your Mind.

For more information on the tax reform plan, visit www.fairandsimple.gop.

Check out this Forum article for their takeaways from Cramer’s discussion!

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Awarding the Ambassador of the Year

October 17th, 2017 by Amanda Hofland

Congratulations to Billy Nustad of Bell Bank for being named the Wayne Saar Ambassador of the Year! This award is given annually and recognizes exemplified volunteerism through committee involvement, attendance and professionalism. The ambassador of the year is nominated by fellow ambassadors in honor of a stellar member of the ambassadors group, Wayne Saar. Wayne was a very active ambassador, well-liked by all who knew him, participated in over 3,000 ribbon cuttings and dedicated 30 years of service to The Chamber’s Public Relations committee.

ambassador of the year

Chamber ambassadors play a crucial role in the community, welcoming new businesses and celebrating the successes of our members. The ambassadors, who serve as the public relations arm of the organization, are the most visible committee at The Chamber, participating in a number of ribbon-cutting and ground-breaking ceremonies each year.

Thank you Billy for your dedication and hard work!

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Business of the Year: Laney’s

October 2nd, 2017 by Amanda Hofland

You’ve probably seen their trucks around town – you know, the one with a Laney’s man waving at you from the back door of the vehicle. It’s just one of Laney’s unique forms of advertising that backs this special company.

Laney's storefront

Laney’s began as a typical new construction plumbing company in the ‘60s. A couple decades later, current co-owner Scott Nelson purchased the business, adding heating, cooling and in-home services to its offerings. He also helped implement a strategy shift for the business, introducing their now-famous 8 to 8 at the regular rate guarantee and a strengthened commitment to the public.

Kevin Wolf joined in 1993, starting by simply installing their computer systems, eventually becoming GM and then president. “Since then, we’ve experienced great growth and continue to look at other services to offer our customers,” he said. Some of these add-on services so far have included electrical services, duct cleaning, sewer & drain cleaning and restoration, water conditioning and softening, and more.

The company has engrained itself into the community by serving residents and businesses, providing quality jobs, and giving back to the community. Even during hard financial times, they’ve sacrificed profits for community service. But that approach has paid off in the end, as they’ve seen incredible growth in both revenue and employees in the past several years.

Laney's man workingOne key to their success is that they always look for ways to separate themselves. Initiatives such as guaranteed upfront pricing, lifetime guarantees, never an overtime charge, unique advertising, professionalism and care, have all helped establish their identity.

Wolf says it’s also extremely important to them to hire the right people – and not just a heartbeat. “While technical skills are always important in our industry, the person themselves is the most important criteria,” he said. “Polite, professional, eager to learn, willing to work and ethical – those are the people we want.”

Laney’s is dedicated to providing the best. In 1993, they joined a national group called Nexstar to offer training on best practices. They also cite their commitment to safety as a core value. Valuing their employees is further evidenced by a generous benefits package.

“Ethics is number one,” Wolf said. “Without this, no other values can exist. We want to treat our customers and employees with respect and fairness in everything we do.”

To make sure they follow through on their promises and customer service, Laney’s employs a rather basic strategy—they ask! Laney’s calls and surveys every customer to make sure that they are satisfied. They also monitor and respond to online reviews, happily reporting that they consistently maintain at least a 4 out of 5 rating.

Community involvement is high on the list of priorities for Laney’s leadership, and they support multiple organizations through special programs, sponsorships and hands-on volunteering. They also offer a program called Service from the Heart, a program that allows Laney’s to lend it expertise and services in HVAC, plumbing and electrical to select non-profits, helping to maintain their equipment as well as advising them in decisions that need to be made in these areas.

Looking forward, Wolf hopes to continue to be successful so that they can keep helping the community and provide for their employees. And as he and Nelson look ahead to retirement, he hopes future leadership keeps moving things forward.

Wolf calls Laney’s a ‘modest’ company and says the best award is being part of a great team. While that is certainly true, the company’s benchmark success makes them no doubt very deserving of another award – this year’s Business of the Year.

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Small Business of the Year: Moorhead Dairy Queen

September 1st, 2017 by Amanda Hofland

On the corner of 8th and Main in Moorhead, there’s a place that has stood the test of time with a sweet story behind it. But it isn’t just any fast food restaurant. The Moorhead Dairy Queen is a treasured gem in our community—and around the nation.

troy and diane

In fact, it’s celebrating its 68th year of business! And much of the store’s success can be credited to Bob and Phyllis Litherland, the original founders who set a standard of hard work and dedication that the current owners have proudly followed over the past 23 years.

This walk-up style Dairy Queen is one of the oldest original stores in the entire Dairy Queen system. Aside from favorite treats such as Bar-B-Que sandwiches and hand-dipped Buster and Dilly Bars, you can also find an outdoor patio under signature red and white umbrellas. They even have “doggie dishes” for that favorite canine in your life!

dog at DQCurrent owners Troy and Diane DeLeon are humble, and never made a point to announce their new ownership of the location. Instead, they snuck in under the radar and focused on maintaining all the old practices handed down from the Litherlands—namely offering a quality product at a fair price for families and friends to gather at.

The original franchise contract was signed by the Litherlands on June 14, 1949. The transfer of ownership to the DeLeons was signed on the very same day 46 years later. It was that fact, coupled with a sermon that Sunday about taking a leap of faith that resonated with Diane, that sealed the deal for them to take on this adventure together all those years ago.

Tradition is extremely important to the couple, and perhaps the only thing higher on the list of priorities is customer service. Everything they do at the Moorhead DQ goes back to offering the best for every single person that walks up. That’s why almost everything on the menu is hand-made and triple checked and why the owners lead by example. Troy often goes to work at 6:30 a.m. to hose down the patio and sidewalks, complete equipment maintenance and begin cooking Bar-B-Que for the day.

There’s no doubt that the DeLeons care about their customers and their community from the bottom of their hearts, and their work ethic is second to none. Both Troy and Diane work every single day during the eight-month season. And they also go above and beyond to support their community. The team looks forward to their annual Miracle Treat event each year. It is one of the busiest days of the entire season! They love every opportunity to support Sanford Children’s Hospital, and get involved in numerous other fundraisers and benefits. They are also excited to sponsor WDAY’s Honor Flight this summer, especially since the founder Bob Litherland was a Korean War and World War II veteran.

dq ice cream

What’s also impressive is how well they treat their staff, which they kindly refer to as their “co-workers,” displaying more of their humble attitude that makes them so likable. “We pride ourselves on hiring bright and hardworking individuals with smiling personalities,” Diane said. “They are great representatives of our business and the Dairy Queen brand.”

Speaking of hiring, the DeLeons are interested in hiring an additional day assistant.

Troy and Diane also fondly recall when they bought the Dairy Queen, the Litherlands insisted that they work in the store before they would sell it to them to ensure they knew what it took to run a successful store. “We will do the same, looking for just the right couple with a strong marriage and a solid work ethic,” Diane said. “The third owners of the Moorhead Dairy Queen will need to love it as much. They have to have a full realization that this is more than just a building with a Dairy Queen sign on the roof. It is about tradition, sense of community, faithful customers, amazing co-workers and relationships built throughout the years.”

While much in the world has changed in the last 68 years, you can count on the Moorhead Dairy Queen to continue serving up smiles for many more with old-fashioned flavor and a big helping of hospitality.

Fun facts

  • Open 8 months out of the year, from March to October
  • The store recently earned another Dairy Queen Royal Pride Award for an outstanding level of cleanliness and food safety.
  • Troy makes between 20 and 60 lbs of BBQ a day
  • The DeLeons are only the second owners in 68 years
  • Each DQ co-worker has 1 month of training before being put on the schedule
  • Our YEA! winner Bridget McManamon works here!
  • The Moorhead store offers a “Heritage Menu” that features several old fashioned Dairy Queen treats.
  • The store still operates under its 1949 contract.
  • The Moorhead DQ was featured on NBC Nightly News in 2015 and has gained other national media attention
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Innovations from the 2017 State of Technology

August 18th, 2017 by Amanda Hofland

Held at the Sanctuary Events Center, which in itself holds top-of-the-line technology within its historic walls, this Wednesday was the 2017 State of Technology. Together with U.S. Senator John Hoeven, we welcomed a series of speakers to share what innovations they’re seeing across the state. Attendees were treated to presentations from experts representing the most cutting-edge tech across a variety of industries.

Senator Hoeven shared a message that the goal should be to make tech entrepreneurship the third wave of growth in North Dakota. North Dakota is already a leader in agriculture, is an energy powerhouse, and now we have the potential to further that with tech. “We want the greater Fargo area to be an absolute hub of tech entrepreneurship in the U.S.,” he said. “That’s what this is all about.”

senator hoeven 2017 state of technology

Dakota Carrier Network, our presenting sponsor, announced the fourth expansion of a data center that is capable of withstanding an F4 tornado and is constructed to never be down. They’re also working to protect the data housed there from cyber threats. Last, they’re collaborating with industry leaders and educators to prepare ND’s workforce for cybersecurity needs for businesses.

Check out more photos on our Facebook album!

“We’re not done until we have every cyber security threat mitigated and protected across the state,” Seth Arndorfer said.

Col. Britt Hatley of the North Dakota Air National Guard said the U.S. ANG is moving into using Remotely Piloted Aircraft to keep our pilots safe doing 24/7 patrol.

Will Brandt of Microsoft conducted a live survey of the audience using Microsoft Forms feeding into an Excel spreadsheet to demonstrate new capability within survey taking that provides real-time data, deep insights and connectivity. Microsoft’s PowerBI visualizes and filters data, which included displaying a map of the corporate headquarters of survey respondents. Using a tool like PowerBI can enable business decision makers to interact and understand big data sets that are increasingly common across many industries.

ITCND also announced a name change. Soon, they will be known as the Technology Council of North Dakota, or TechND for short.

Congrats to the following winners of the ITCND 2017 Awards:

  • Premier IT Business: High Point Networks
  • Technology Innovator: Midco
  • North Dakota IT Champion: Justin Walsh and Garrett Moon, CoSchedule

state of technology 2017 attendees

Dakota Outerwear Company is headquartered in Minot and represented ND during Trump’s Made in America Week. Richard Leshovsky took the stage to share more about their garments for military and oil workers that are used throughout the world.

“We need technology in the production of our products to make them efficient and competitive,” he said. “Our industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, and that’s created some unique problems that without computers we wouldn’t be able to overcome.”

Now, they make clothing that can prevent frostbite, be flame resistant, reflective and/or prevent injuries.

Betty Gronneberg, founder of uCodeGirl, talked about how we are in a time of extraordinary change, where things like automation, big data and the Internet of Things are coming together to provide boundless possibilities. But with that, we have a responsibility to prepare the next generation for this future.  “We have to raise computational thinkers,” she said.

The problem? “We have 576 jobs in ND and only 117 graduates. “If we want to be leading an innovative state, we need to invest in our kids. The solution is found in the same place as the problem. North Dakota should take the lead.”

She also said that 71% of computing jobs will be in the T in STEAM. But, girls are missing out at an alarming rate for these opportunities. She believes it is the lack of role models and the cultural norm that doesn’t give them the confidence to pursue into uncharted territory like computer science. “We must ask, why not? …I believe that girls are capable, creative and curious, and can contribute to technical solutions.”

Brian Kalk talked about UND’s EERC efforts, which has been increasing energy recovery and solutions for the development of coal, CO2 and oil. “Every 1% more oil we get out of the Bakken is a billion barrels of oil,” he said.

Justin Walsh, CTO and co-founder of CoSchedule, shared the story of ND’s fastest-growing startup, including starting as two guys in a basement to now having 8,000+ customers in over 100 countries and revenue that has doubled three years in a row. “North Dakota has everything you need to start a high-tech, high-growth company. We think North Dakota is our competitive advantage. We’re a North Dakota company built on North Dakota capital, and we’re very proud of that.”

NDSU’s Innovation Challenge winners James Froberg and Fataneh Karandish discussed their game-changing research and device that can detect pancreatic cancer in a single drop of blood.

state of tech burgum

Presenting the keynote address was North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who provided numerous examples of areas in which ND is demonstrating innovation, and discussed how we can continue to lead the way and where we still need to grow. From autonomous aerial vehicles, the Northern Plains Test Site, precision ag, pipeline safety, health care, data collection, fiber optics that collect real-time traffic data, and more. And while UND and NDSU may compete in football, he said that R&D should be a team sport where we all collaborate.

“We want to focus on innovation, and as a state we can do that,” he said, “whereas other states focus on yesterday’s problem, we can innovate and solve tomorrow’s problem.”

On a governmental level, motor vehicle kiosks are coming to the state, driver’s licenses can now be renewed online, and mobile apps for the DOT and Job Service are available – something our state has been behind in for a while. “Our vision is that we’ve got to be as good in government as the private sector.”

Burgum pointed to a few specific organizations that are making huge differences around the world. From Protosthetics that outfitted 46 people with 3-D printed prosthetics in five days in Guatemala, to Appareo revolutionizing agriculture, along with John Deere and Case. “Two of the three major farm manufacturers are doing all their software and technology work in Fargo that’s being shipped around the world, and that will transform every aspect of farming,” he said.

To wrap it up, Burgum brought the discussion back to workforce, tying again to Gronneberg’s message. “We’re not graduating enough people to fill the 21st century jobs. We’ve got to have life-long learning, we’ve got to start skills and get smarter.”

He offered a challenge to continually ask questions, and be aware, intentional and innovative as businesses in these times of rapid change.

Check out this recap from The Forum: Building up the ‘railroad’: Tech conference touts ND’s growth in high-speed internet

And this coverage from KVRR: 2017 State of Technology Conference in Fargo

Here are our favorite Tweets from event attendees

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Mini-Grant Opportunity to Support Worksite Breastfeeding

August 15th, 2017 by Member Contributor

By Michelle Draxten, Public Health Nutritionist, Fargo Cass Public Health

Supporting breastfeeding employees has many business benefits. Fargo Cass Public Health is excited to continue its support of breastfeeding in the workplace and has funding up to $500 available for worksites in Cass County to achieve the Infant-Friendly Worksite Designation.

The Infant-Friendly Worksite Designation is a free recognition program through the state of North Dakota for businesses that support their breastfeeding employees. These businesses have a breastfeeding policy that includes:

  • Flexible scheduling to allow for expression of milk/nursing,
  • Providing a private, clean space (not a toilet stall or restrooms) for pumping/nursing,
  • Access to a clean water source for washing hands and breast pump equipment, and
  • Providing refrigeration for temporary storage of breast milk.

The key focus of the funds is to assist worksites in overcoming the most commonly reported barrier to supporting their breastfeeding employees: adequate space that is private and comfortable. Funds can be used to purchase a chair, small table, door lock, refrigerator, soft lighting, and more. Fargo Cass Public Health staff are also available to assist businesses in identifying a space, as well as policy development and implementation.

Businesses who receive funding are then encouraged to apply for the Infant-Friendly Worksite Designation.  The application is free and available online. Being designated reflects a business’s commitment to supporting breastfeeding employees and their families. These businesses can also use “Infant-Friendly” on any promotional or recruitment materials.  Read more about the business benefits in this post.

Applications for funds to support breastfeeding in the workplace are accepted on a first come, first serve basis. Funds are limited and must be spent by September 30, so apply today!

Join these local businesses who are currently designated as Infant-Friendly:

  • Apex Physical Therapy & Wellness Center
  • Cass County Government
  • City of Fargo
  • City of West Fargo
  • CoreLink Administrative Solutions
  • Courts Plus Community Fitness Center
  • Dakota Medical Foundation
  • Discovery Benefits
  • Eide Bailly LLP
  • Elim Care Center
  • Fargo Jet Center
  • Fargo Park District
  • Fargo VA Health Care System
  • Gate City Bank
  • Hornbacher’s
  • Lillestol Research LLC
  • ManorCare Health Services
  • North Dakota State University
  • Prairie Roots Food Co-op
  • Preference Employment Solutions
  • SpartanNash
  • Sundog
  • TMI Hospitality
  • Town & Country Credit Union
  • Tronsgard & Sullivan Dental
  • Weather Modification Inc
  • West Acres Mall
  • WEX Health
  • YMCA Early Learning Center South
  • YWCA Cass Clay

Support your breastfeeding employees and their families — become a designated Infant-Friendly Worksite. Apply HERE!

Contact Michelle Draxten with any questions and for a grant application!

mdraxten@fargoND.gov

701.476.6677

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What’s going on with the workforce efforts

August 9th, 2017 by Amanda Hofland

August chamber eggs and issues panelYou’ve probably heard that our region – and the nation – is experiencing a workforce shortage. (To recap our workforce collaborative, check out this post.) You may have also heard that there’s a Career Academy in the works that could help address this issue. At our July Eggs & Issues, we looked at both to get an update of the situation and possible solutions.

Check out this Prairie Business article for more on the Career Academy.

We were joined by John Richman and Tony Grindberg of North Dakota State College of Science; Denise Jonas, Fargo Public Schools; and Perry Lubbers, Trail King.

These folks are looking at a Next Generation Sector Partnerships model (visit nextgensectorpartnerships.com to learn more), a nationwide idea that puts businesses at front of the discussion rather than on the periphery and driven by other organizations trying to solve their problems. “Business and industry has to get engaged in the process and take the lead, take k-12 and the rest of the institutions through what the needs are,” Lubbers said. Richman agreed, adding that with this better understanding of what local companies need, then the educational institutions can tailor their curriculum to teach those skills utilizing current technology.

In North Dakota, the total number of high school graduates has dropped from 12,000 to 7,000 since the mid-80s according to Richman. But, this spring will be the first that we’ll see an increased number of grads since then. At the same time, we’re seeing a rise in tech advancements in all industries and a shortage of people, yet our culture seems to have devalued technicians. “There isn’t one perfect solution to this, but if we collaborate and create partnerships, we can do better,” he said.“We believe the concept of the career academy is going to help all of us. It’s about solving a problem that if we don’t, we’re not going to move the needle on the social-economic position of our region.”

Here’s the video that opened the event.

Next Gen Sector Partnerships from Next Gen Sector Partnerships on Vimeo.

Lubbers spoke about his perspective as an employer that is looking for about 50 people with a certain skill set, but can’t find those people. What he’s learned is that it’s best to focus on young people in the tri-state area, rather than looking around the nation. “We believe that it’s important to get in front of young people and let them know of the opportunities in our region and our state,” he said. “How do we attract young people in the state and then retain them? If you look at the statistics today, of those that graduate, it’s not good. We’ve got the figure out how to keep our most valuable resources. We believe that through this CTE center, we can accomplish a lot of that.”

As the career academy now looks to get off the ground, the next critical step is funding. Grindberg explained that he expects the silent phase to take about six to nine months and include private discussions with businesses to get their commitment to help. A taskforce is also forming to address the operational piece of the project. “It’s going to be easier to raise the capital to build this, but it has to be sustainable,” Richman said. “We do not want to create something that is a burden to the next generation of academic leaders.”

We also had lots of questions from the audience, and we thank all that showed up to discuss this important topic. Stay tuned for even more on this workforce issue.

Check out these Tweets from event attendees!

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Not-for-Profit of the Year: Access of the Red River Valley

August 1st, 2017 by Amanda Hofland

Around 1984, a local group of parents of children with disabilities became determined to keep their children out of institutional care and in private homes. This grassroots effort gave rise to the agency we know as Access of the Red River Valley. Today, they continue with this mission of supporting children and adults lead dignified independent lives.

Access Clients at parade

They do this through independent living services, in-home family support, corporate foster care, children’s mental health case management, and more. Collaboration with families, schools and resources in the community help make it all possible.

For non-profits with government-controlled budgets, it can be hard to get the word out, and that’s what makes this humble organization so proud of receiving a 2017 ChamberChoice Award. For staff at Access, it’s a 24/7 job where every day is different and they get to change people’s lives. From college students to those needing a part-time job, their employees come from all walks of life. Which fits perfectly into their guiding principles to treat everyone with respect and to appreciate differences.

Though most of their budget goes to payroll for their around 130 employees, it’s clear their focus is on providing the best care possible, offering 1-on-1 care for every client. Their goal is to treat each client as they would want their own children to be treated, and with the same opportunities as anyone else. “We are dealing with human beings, and every situation is different,” Krista Svobodny, HR manager, said.

All clients at Access live in a safe home with their own bedroom and their own space. Currently, they have eight sites where clients live alone and a few others with only two clients sharing a home. In 2007, they opened a triplex unit in Moorhead, which houses six clients, as well as the Michael Czichotzki Learning Center, where staff and clients can come for classes and activities.

bill smith with access clientCommunity integration is vital at Access. For their clients, community inclusion creates value for everyone’s uniqueness and abilities. They believe it is important for everyone to feel they are part of an event, and not just observe. Community outings also teach valuable social skills. Bill Smith, services director, says there is rarely an event going on around town that Access clients are not attending.

Smith has a unique take on his work at Access. In his 15-year career there, he first started as a case manager and has been able to watch clients grow when they start with the agency as children through adulthood. He says being able to witness their young clients become successful 30-year-olds is what he loves most. “We take care of them, from teaching them how to cook, do laundry and take care of themselves, and then see the progression of them becoming independent and knowing you’re part of that.”

Playing an important role in our community for over 30 years, Access hopes to maintain the same quality of service going forward, but hopes to see growth in employees and awareness. Kathy Potter, executive director, says she just wants people to know that Access is there and provides a much-needed service for our community. She often refers to a slogan Smith says, which is that we are all just one accident away from a disability, and it can happen to anybody. If something happens to you or someone you know, you can at least rest assured that the individuals at Access will step in to help.

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Why we gave Shaq the thumbs up for Voices of Vision

August 1st, 2017 by Amanda Hofland

Shaq and CraigAbout a week before we announced this year’s Voices of Vision speaker, I started teasing the BIG news on Twitter. Of course, now that you’ve (probably) heard it is Shaquille O’Neal, it makes sense why we used the “big” catchphrase. Not only is Shaq literally big, but so is his name recognition, so is his persona, so are his accomplishments, and so is this news.

We’re not sure we’ve ever had so much excitement over a speaker for a Chamber event ever! We sold out floor seats within 24 hours and had to open up stadium seating. Shaq’s name is so recognizable, and it’s been a joy for our Chamber staff to have this level of fun promoting something.

Of course, you also know Shaq mostly for his accomplishments in the NBA. He’s a four-time NBA Champion, 15-time All Star and three-time Finals MVP. He’s played for 20 years with six teams and was named one of the most influential athletes by Forbes.

The thing about Shaq is that he seems to transcend sports. It may be his first claim to fame, but now he’s proven himself as such a busy and recognizable entrepreneur that even your grandma probably knows who he is. I see him on a commercial almost every time I turn on the TV! But when I started learning more about his business accomplishments, that’s when I was really impressed. His list of accomplishments as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and family man are worthy of attention. And there are several surprises in that mix! Did you know that he owns more than 150 Five Guys restaurants, just bought a Krispy Kreme, and was an early investor in Google? I invite you to check out my column in the August issue of Fargo INC! magazine to learn more, and take this fun quiz to test your own Shaq knowledge.

But one thing I wanted to make clear was that we decided to hire Shaq not because he’s another sports guy. Yes, in prior years, Joe Theismann and Terry Bradshaw graced the Voices of Vision stage. And yes, we have always had men in the past.

We searched high and low for the right fit for this year’s Voices of Vision speaker. We tossed around so many names and ideas that I lost track. The one name that continued to stand out was Shaq.

I have no doubt that Shaq will not disappoint. The level of buzz over this news already is encouraging. We hope that you understand and sign up to hear from this amazing businessman, investor, mentor and all-around star. This series has big shoes to fill, and clearly, Shaq’s size 23 shoes do just that.

Craig Whitney
President/CEO
The Chamber

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Youthworks: Small Not-for-Profit of the Year

July 1st, 2017 by Amanda Hofland

Life can be turbulent at times for anyone, but at-risk youth can face even greater challenges. That’s where Youthworks steps in. This year’s ChamberChoice Small Not-for-Profit winner supports youth and their families, helping them meet goals and establish strong, healthy relationships through a range of programs. Above all, they offer a safe place for kids and families.

youthworks staff

On average, approximately 170 youth experience homelessness each night in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The goal at Youthworks is to reduce that number by helping those who need it most.

Founded in 1991, Youthworks offers professional social work, family counseling and mentoring to youth who are diverted from juvenile court, suspended from school, are homeless, victims of sex trafficking or are in need of food and shelter. And, they are the only local agency that offers a short-term care and assessment center for children aged 11 to 17.

fargo youthworks buildingThey have two locations in North Dakota (Fargo and Bismarck), but serve people across the whole state and even into Minnesota. In the last two years, Youthworks has expanded programming and staff in the area of human and sex trafficking prevention, education, intervention and advocacy. So far, they have been able to help over 30 victims of human trafficking, and are looking to expand their experience in labor trafficking.

“All these programs are responses to what our community or state needed,” Jessica Fleck, program manager, said. “We really wanted to step in and fill those gaps.”

Youthworks operates a statewide guardian ad litem program, advocating for 1,000 children in deprivation cases before the Juvenile Court.

They’ve expanded their Transitional Living and Pathways to Parenting programs, and recently purchased the home next door to their main campus to allow for more space for homeless programming. They also do street outreach and have a 24-hour crisis line.

Youthworks’ success and growth can be attributed to an overarching approach to positive youth development. And it’s working, as surveys of youth and families consistently show they feel respected and safe at the agency. “We’re driven by treating any and all with respect and humanity,” Joan Neilan, development director, said. “These are not easy situations, and we believe that youth should have a voice.”

youthworks Kim and MelaniePart of how they give these individuals a voice is by hosting a youth advisory board for their clients to have input on their programming. They also involve youth and clients in street outreach and integrate them into the community.

It’s important for Youthworks to give back, and they make a point to offer volunteer opportunities to both its staff and clients.

They’re a part of the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons, and contract with the schools, juvenile courts, Social Services and Sheriff’s department.

One message Youthworks wanted to share in this article was to remind that youth homelessness is a thing, but it doesn’t mean homeless kids are bad kids. It can affect anyone, and that is why an agency with such a welcoming atmosphere and open-door policy means so much.

With its strong leadership and dedicated board and staff, Youthworks no doubt will continue to serve a vital role in our community into the future.

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