ND commerce chief reveals details about new private sector job
Kommer, who will have served four years in Gov. Doug Burgum’s administration when she steps down Oct. 1, will own her own business, HighRoad Partners.
BISMARCK – North Dakota’s Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer is leaving public office to take the high road.
Kommer, who will have served four years in Gov. Doug Burgum’s administration when she steps down Oct. 1, most recently leading the state’s Department of Commerce, will own her own business, HighRoad Partners.
“This company is one that offers group health insurance, as well as individual health insurance policies," Kommer said. "What I hope to add to that service line is the provision of human resources, payroll and employment law, to some extent.”
HighRoad Partner’s target market will be small businesses, from one to 50 employees, she said.
“The last four years have really emphasized the need in the marketplace for a company like this,” she said.
A corporate attorney, licensed to practice in both North Dakota and Minnesota, Kommer specialized in employment law and human resources joining Burgum’s cabinet. Her new role at HighRoad Partners will rely heavily on helping businesses improve their processes, making them more efficient, ultimately helping them to focus on building their “core.”
“It’s a role that I really enjoy,” Kommer said, “helping them build infrastructure, so that they can do what they do better.”
She’ll be working across sectors, from banking and finance to manufacturing and energy, and in everything from information technology to human resources.
“I don’t want to forget the fact that we also serve individuals,” she said. “We have a medicare portfolio, too.”
Kommer said it’s been an honor to serve her state, but the time has come to move on. But, not without having learned a lot about herself, the government, and the people she’s served.
Over 25 years, Kommer has had to learn to adapt. By nature, she said, she’s an introvert.
“Some introverts don’t like people,” she said. “I love people, and I love helping them be successful.”
Kommer was appointed as state labor commissioner in 2016, a year later folding those duties into her role as newly appointed executive director of Job Service North Dakota. By December 2018, she was appointed commissioner of commerce.
“We are deeply grateful for Michelle’s service, sacrifice, versatility as a leader and positive impact on the citizens of North Dakota,” Burgum said in an Aug. 24 press release.
He praised Kommer’s private sector skills, her quick adaptability to the workings of state government, and her ability to lead by example, calling her “a valued member of the cabinet.”
“I’m a Christian,” she said. “I’m a believer, and all through these last four years there have been a number of times where I’ve had to say, ‘Dear God, what are you teaching me?’”
Since March, Kommer said the administration worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for at least 100 days to develop and hone North Dakota’s rapid response to the ever-unfolding coronavirus pandemic.
“We had to make some big decisions really fast,” she said. “We have about 54 people at the Department of Commerce. We put our job descriptions aside, and took a look at every member’s strengths and weaknesses, and assigned them to teams.”
Leaving behind such a dedicated team is “heart-wrenching and bittersweet,” she said.
Kommer credits her husband, Toby, as a key inspiration in her decision to move into the private sector.
“He’s been encouraging me for years and years to move into this space,” she said.
Looking to the future, it’s hard for Kommer to be anything but sanguine, especially for the commerce team she leaves behind.
“I just look forward to supporting them in new and different ways,” Kommer said.