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JLG 'rocks': Local architecture firm has many reasons to celebrate

Todd Medd is the associate principal and branch manager at JLG Architects in downtown Fargo. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Fargo - Employees of JLG Architects will have a lot to celebrate at the “JLG Rocks” event later this summer in Grand Forks.

The firm regularly gathers employees together once or twice a year, but this year is special. A street dance and party are planned in celebration of its 25th year in business.

Employees will also celebrate a number of recent honors bestowed upon the company, including being named one of the top 25 small businesses to work for by Prairie Business magazine in its September issue.

ZweigWhite, a management consulting and research company, also ranked JLG fifth on its list of the eight best firms to work for in the United States and Canada in 2014. JLG also ranked No. 21 on its list of the 100 fastest-growing architecture, engineering, planning and environmental consulting firms this year.

Todd Medd, associate principal and Fargo branch manager, said he is especially proud the firm was recognized as a good employer.

“We think design awards are great because they show a commitment from us and our clients to create something fantastic, but we don’t get to that point unless we’re the best firm to work for,” Medd said.

Better through design

The firm was launched in December 1989 in Grand Forks by architects Gary Johnson and Lonnie Laffen. Jim Galloway joined a few years later and the business became known as JLG Architects.

Medd said the original partners built the firm around the idea of making communities better through design.

They grew the business methodically under that premise over the next 20 years, opening additional offices in Minneapolis, Alexandria, Minn., and Fargo.

Their growth received a kick start about five years ago as things started heating up in the Oil Patch of western North Dakota. Since then, they have added about 40 employees and opened offices in Bismarck, Williston, Minot and Dickinson, all in North Dakota. Medd said the company hopes to announce additional locations in the near future.

JLG projects range in scope from single-family homes to large university and medical center buildings.

Medd said an architect in this area needs to be somewhat a jack-of-all- trades because you never know what the next project might be. JLG has, however, created market sector studios so architects with specific passions can focus on those designs. Examples are JLGmed for those interested in health care facilities, JLGedu for K-12 and higher education projects, and JLGice, a unique sector dedicated to ice arena design.

JLG has been involved in a number of recent high-profile projects including the University of North Dakota Gorecki Alumni Center in Grand Forks and the state’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum building. The firm is also the architect of record for UND’s new medical center.

Locally, JLG designed the Sanford Clinic in Moorhead, and is working on the new Sanford Medical Center in south Fargo. HKS Architects of Dallas is the lead, but Sanford wanted to collaborate with a local firm that understood the culture and building conditions, Medd said.

Best place to work

ZweigWhite noted JLG’s workplace practices, employee benefits and retention rates as three of the reasons the firm ranked high on the list of the best places to work.

Medd said the opportunity for employees to invest in the company is one of the biggest benefits. The board of directors extends the offer to buy into the firm to employees based on criteria such as leadership and commitment to the company and community.

He said the internship program, JLG DNA, is another big draw for the company.

The firm takes advantage of its connection with North Dakota State University, one of the biggest architecture schools in the region. Medd said the goal is to foster and protect the collaboration atmosphere students experience in college.

“If you ever stop by (NDSU’s) Renaissance Hall, everybody is working together, bouncing ideas off each other, and fully engaged in the design process,” Medd said. “We felt like when people became a professional, they kind of lost a little bit of that.”

Their answer was to assemble recent grads in Grand Forks to take part in the JLG DNA studio where they do their internships and study for exams. Once they become licensed architects, they have the option of working at any one of the firm’s offices.

Another attraction is the opportunity to work on pro bono projects. JLG is a member of Architecture 1%, which means the company donates 1 percent of the firm’s time to nonprofit architecture.