Vibrant downtowns create smart, healthy cities.
That’s the mission of the Kilbourne Group, a Fargo business founded by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. After opening in 2006, the development firm’s staff now includes not one, nor two but seven graduates of Wahpeton High School.
“The governor believes strongly in an 18-hour, vibrant downtown and so do we,” said President Mike Allmendinger, 43, who graduated from Wahpeton High School in 1992. “We believe in mixed-usage projects to create vibrant cities.”
Most of the seven Wahpeton alumni are working in Fargo. Courtland Miller, a market research analyst and 2009 graduate who turned 27 on Sunday, March 4, is currently working from Seattle.
“My fiancee is here for her pharmacy rotation (as a student),” Miller explained. “The fact that I’m allowed to come out here with her is an interesting example of what makes Kilbourne different.”
Having a member of the team work remotely has been an experiment for Kilbourne Group. The transition has been smooth, thanks to strong communication and flexible teammates.
“Courtland does a monthly lunch and learn with us. He’s letting us know about what he sees and observes in Seattle. Hopefully we can bring that to North Dakota,” Allmendinger continued.
Mark Johnson, 42, is a facility manager. Often working with fellow 1994 graduate and Senior Project Manager Jason Haugen, also 42, Johnson’s bread and butter is managing preservation with function.
“Take the Loretta Building, where we work,” Johnson said. “This is an over 100-year-old building, renovated from top to bottom. It received a brand new fourth floor and it’s a building that’s active from top to bottom. We have an opportunity to work with these buildings with unique character.”
A point of pride for the Kilbourne Group was that the Loretta Building’s commercial spaces were completely leased before the completed building was officially opened.
“Every building we’ve come across in downtown has a unique past. We want to bring them back to life so they can last for 50-100 more years,” Johnson added.
Not every project involves revitalizing a current space.
“We might build a brand new building on what was a parking lot. That space has a brand new story. There’s new opportunities and the chance for another great story,” Johnson continued.
Connor Koppang, 22, began working for the Kilbourne Group as an intern in the spring of 2017. In January, the 2013 graduate joined the team full time as an assistant project manager.
“Day to day, I’m keeping track of estimating and bidding, managing subcontractors and keeping track of construction costs,” Koppang said.
Allmendinger explained that while the seven men work for the same business, they’re usually in different fields. For example, managing broker Mike Peschel is focused on leasing opportunities.
“I’m so new, I don’t even know where all the rooms in the Loretta are,” Peschel, 39, said. “I started last week.”
Since then, Peschel, a 1997 graduate has been busy. At the same time, he’s proud to work with passionate employees.
With such a high number of Wahpeton High School alumni, one would assume the Kilbourne Group was intentionally reaching out to the Twin Towns Area for new hires. That’s not necessarily so, Allmendinger said.
“It’s not a big factor. We’re an organization that hires on values and character. We’ve been able to find people who match that throughout the Midwest. On the other hand, when there are people who are interested in working with us, it’s good that they have a prior connection to network with,” he continued.
Every so often, there’s a surprise. That was the case with Staff Accountant Bret Sheeley, 26, who graduated from high school with Miller and didn’t know Miller had applied for the Kilbourne Group.
“It’s all more of a coincidence than anything,” Allmendinger continued.
For 20 years, Allmendinger has worked with Burgum. The two men share a commitment for vibrant downtowns, of buildings at their full potential and support for business.
“Right now, Fargo is striving to be an 18-hour-a-day city. They’re working downtown, shopping there, entertaining and living. We’re working to figure out how to make a city function from 7 a.m.-2 a.m., to balance safety, culture and a sense of energy. We’re all striving to achieve that, creating a cultural amenity for this entire region, somewhere for people to live,” Allmendinger said.
Whether or not Fargo or even Wahpeton becomes a 24-hour city, the Kilbourne Group continues. The work is fulfilling, but not always flashy. In fact, several of the seven employees interviewed were surprised they’d inspire a news article.
“Okay, which of our parents called?” Johnson joked.
Wahpeton High School alumni at Kilbourne Group:
• Mike Allmendinger, 43, president of Kilbourne Group and longtime business partner of Gov. Doug Burgum
• Mark Johnson, 42, facility manager, manages preservation with function
• Courtland Miller, 27, market research analyst, currently working from Seattle
• Jason Haugen, 42, senior project manager, believes in living, working and playing in same city
• Connor Koppang, 22, assistant project manager, keeps track of estimates and bids, costs and contractors
• Mike Peschel, 39, managing broker, so new an employee, he’s still learning where everything is
• Bret Sheeley, 26, staff accountant, was surprised classmate Miller was a co-worker