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An outside investment: Good landscaping can mean more customers, happier workers

Gate City Bank’s facilities manager Jay Krabbenhoft and landscaper Joan Nicolai of Natural Environments pose for a photo near some of the plants outside the downtown Fargo location of Gate City Bank. Dave Wallis / The Forum1 / 8
Wild flowers and prairie grasses are planted around the Microsoft buildings in Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 8
A large cottonwood tree can be seen through a large window inside the first building on what is now the Fargo campus of Microsoft. The address for the location is 1 Lone Tree Road. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 8
Vines cover a wall and hide an alley near an entrance at the downtown Fargo location of Gate City Bank. Dave Wallis / The Forum4 / 8
Annuals and perennials are planted as a border between the sidewalk and a parking lot at the downtown Fargo location of Gate City Bank. Dave Wallis / The Forum5 / 8
Boulders are a reminder of the glacial period and were built into the landscaping design at the Fargo location of Microsoft. Dave Wallis / The Forum6 / 8
A large cottonwood tree on the prairie is where the address of 1 Lone Tree Road was chosen. Great Plains Software built the building next to it and was later purchase by Microsoft. Dave Wallis / The Forum7 / 8
Vines grow on a frame that provides privacy and acts as a wind break near an outdoor dining area at the Fargo location of Microsoft. Dave Wallis / The Forum8 / 8

FARGO—The saying goes, "It's what's on the inside that matters," but for businesses, it's also what's on the outside.

Many companies spend thousands each year on commercial landscaping to enhance the attractiveness of their exterior. The benefits can include increased foot traffic, higher property values and improved employee productivity.

From a software company located on 81 acres at the edge of the city to a bank headquarters in the heart of downtown, facilities managers are making the most of their real estate.

Gate City Bank

Landscaping downtown where greenspace is limited can be difficult, but Gate City Bank is an example of how it can be done. The bank recently made a large investment in a new parking lot and landscaping at its downtown branch.

Jay Krabbenhoft, senior vice president and office services manager, said the project was initiated by Steve Swiontek, Gate City's chairman, president and CEO.

"He wanted it to be very warm and inviting, like our interior. It's a part of the customer experience and the employee experience, and it was really out of respect to our neighbors, too," Krabbenhoft said.

The project included additional parking spaces, new sidewalks, concrete approaches, curbs and gutters and new landscaping.

Joan Nicolai of Natural Environments Landscaping was in charge of the plants. She used a lot of different perennials, annuals, natural grasses and even vegetables like kale and parsley to create eye-catching flower beds and planters.

"It's kind of a challenging environment working around so much asphalt, foot traffic and Mother Nature," she said. "I used things that can withstand heat and maybe a little bit of abuse from time to time."

Krabbenhoft said he has heard a lot of good feedback about the bank's new look.

"Actually, people have written in to the bank stating that it was part of their overall enjoyment of doing business here," he said.

Microsoft

Doug Burgum, who was president of Great Plains Software, is responsible for setting the tone for the development of the Microsoft campus located on an old farmstead in south Fargo. Katie Hasbargen, senior communications manager with Microsoft, said it was important to him to preserve the area's natural landscape.

Here are a few ways she said Microsoft continues to incorporate the North Dakota landscape:

• Glacial boulders: Large deposits of sedimentary rock were left behind as the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago. As homesteaders began to prepare the land for farming, those rocks were often piled in mounds still seen in fields today. To reflect that, clusters of glacial boulders are located throughout the campus.

• Trees: While the state does not have an abundance of trees, one place they are found is in shelterbelts. Microsoft has maintained the existing shelterbelt and planted additional trees around the campus to protect it from the elements. The most prominent tree is a large cottonwood that gives the road that runs along campus—One Lone Tree Road—its name. Hasbargen said the company has gone to great lengths to save the tree over the years, including bringing in an arborist from out of state to anchor and lightning-proof it.

• Water: One of the most unique aspects of the campus is its stormwater management system. Instead of curbs and sewers, the parking lot has what Hasbargen calls "rain gardens" consisting of prairie grasses and cottonwood trees that filter and absorb rain water.

With regards to the actual flower beds, Hasbargen said perennials were planted in a layered system. For example, irises bloom in the spring, which are replaced by daylilies in the summer and a layer of grasses mature in the late summer and fall. She said there is always something to look at and enjoy.

Hasbargen said because the Fargo Microsoft campus is not a commercial location, what they have done inside and out is all for the employees.

"This is very much about wanting people to want to work here," she said.

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