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Plan for building unveiled

While companies across the nation are outsourcing jobs to China and India, a software giant will bolster its work force on the North Dakota prairie. Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced the first phase of a plan to expand its Fargo campus by cons...

Graphic: Fargo-Moorhead's largest...

While companies across the nation are outsourcing jobs to China and India, a software giant will bolster its work force on the North Dakota prairie.

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced the first phase of a plan to expand its Fargo campus by constructing a 120,000-square-foot building that will allow space for 575 more employees.

Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, said Fargo's proximity to 40,000 college students within a 100-mile radius allows Microsoft to tap a large talent pool.

"Some of you might wonder why would Microsoft be looking to expand here? The answer is very simple. This location, Fargo, has been great for our company," Raikes said.

Raikes said Fargo's Microsoft campus has expanded its capabilities since it bought Great Plains Software in a $1.1 billon stock deal in 2001. More customer support services, inside sales and accounting jobs came on board.

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He said Microsoft wants to build on that momentum and is preparing for future growth at the Fargo campus.

The new building, scheduled for completion in 2009, will be the third on Microsoft's North Dakota campus. The expansion is part of a $2 billion investment by Microsoft worldwide to expand facilities, Raikes said.

Microsoft's Fargo branch plans to add 200 employees next year and projects an additional 3 percent to 5 percent increase in job growth for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, said Don Morton, Microsoft's site leader at the Fargo campus.

That builds on the 175 employees the company added in Fargo in 2007, Morton said.

New job hires will fall across several categories, including customer support services and information technology jobs, Morton said.

Those increases would allow Microsoft to continue climbing the ladder as one of the region's largest employers.

Currently Microsoft ranks as Fargo-Moorhead's fifth largest employer behind U.S. Bank Systems, Noridian/

Blue Cross Blue Shield, American Crystal Sugar and MeritCare Health Systems, according to employment data compiled by the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

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Along with constructing a third building, the Redmond, Wash.-based company plans to expand its existing Horizon Building by 65,000 square feet to add a new café, meeting rooms and a company store.

The expansion also includes "the installation of connecting links between all buildings" on the Fargo campus and renovations to the facility's Vista Building. Those renovations will add meeting space and landscaping improvements, the news release states.

Construction on the project, which brings an overall $70 million investment in the Fargo campus, will start in August.

Microsoft's Fargo campus currently employs 1,293 people, including 956 full-time employees and 337 vendors and support staff. When the expansion is complete, Microsoft projects there will be space for 3,800 employees and vendors.

Microsoft's news was welcomed by Gov. John Hoeven, who has spent recent weeks receiving dismal news about North Dakota's economy.

Oakdale, Minn.-based Imation Corp. will close its Wahpeton, N.D., plant in 2009, axing 393 jobs in the process. In addition, Bobcat Co., based in West Fargo, is up for sale by its parent company Ingersoll-Rand. While Bobcat hasn't announced any job cuts, Hoeven has visited with Bobcat executives to emphasize the company's importance to North Dakota's economy.

Hoeven said he wants to work with Microsoft to ensure North Dakota takes the proper steps to make the state attractive to major employers like Microsoft.

"We are committed to enhancing the business climate," Hoeven said.

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"This vote of confidence in North Dakota is very important to us."

Brian Walters, president of the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp., said Microsoft's announcement is a positive step in the region's efforts to shift to a technology-oriented economy.

Walters and the FMEDC are developing strategies to help the Red River Valley better compete in the global economy. Walters has said Fargo-Moorhead needs to improve higher education programs in core technology areas, promote entrepreneurs through establishing start-up programs and other tools, better telecommunications and change the K-12 education system to include more courses in science, technology, engineering and math.

Bringing higher-paying jobs such as those offered by Microsoft complements other efforts to change the economy and recruit more tech firms to the region, Walters said.

"This makes it nothing but easier in telling our story to the rest of the world," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Melinda Rogers at (701) 241-5524

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