It was love of his hometown that brought Matt Kramer back to Minot after he had moved away, and that same passion is now being put to use as he steps in to lead the Minot Area Development Corporation board of directors during the upcoming year.
Kramer practically grew up in I. Keating, as his father has worked there since 1969 when he was still in high school. Kramer did the same, working summers in the warehouse as his father did during his own high school years at Bishop Ryan.
After graduating high school in 1991, Kramer attended the University of Notre Dame and earned an accounting degree in 1995. He worked for Deloitte & Touche, a public accounting firm in Minneapolis, for just over a year before getting a call from his dad to come back home.
Dan Feldner/MDN • Matt Kramer, president of I. Keating Furniture World, officially took over as chairman of the Minot Area Development Corporation board during the organization’s annual meeting Thursday.
"He had been in discussions with the Keating family about purchasing the business," Kramer said. "It looked like it was going to happen, so he said why don't you come on back, I could use come help, and I took him up on the offer."
Since his return in 1996, Kramer has worked his way up to president of I. Keating, which encompasses four stores located in Minot, Bismarck, Dickinson and Williston. Between Minot and Bismarck, he said there are about eight extended family members involved with the business.
Although he only worked in public accounting for around a year, Kramer doesn't regret for an instant jumping ship to the family business.
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"It was exciting. Public accounting is a fine profession, but it doesn't give you the freedom of owning your own business and doing what you want with your own business," Kramer said. "So I jumped at that opportunity when I had it."
Kramer has now been married for 7 1/2 years and he and his wife have two dogs they treat like children.
Around three years ago Kathie Gaddie, president of Ryan Auto Group, showed up at I. Keating and told Kramer MADC was looking for young business owners to join the board and give back to the community that's been so good to them.
"I gave it some thought and told her I'd go ahead and join the board," Kramer said.
He was a member of the board for one year, then joined the executive committee. Kramer said people spend two years on the executive committee sort of being bumped up the chain of command until they are named chairperson their third year.
"That's what got me here," Kramer said.
He will serve one year as chairman before returning to the executive committee for an additional year as the past chair. Kramer will then have the option to stay on the board or leave and allow someone new to take his place.
"It's sort of a rotating board. We have new members every year, and people who decide not to rejoin the board every year," Kramer said. "So it's a nice new mix every year of people."
Kramer officially took over as chairman of the board Thursday at MADC's annual meeting. Jay Fisher, director of the North Central Research Extension Center south of town, handed the job of chairman to Kramer and stepped into the past chair role.
MADC's primary role is to promote the general economic development of the Minot area. Kramer said that can be facilitating the process of new businesses coming to town, and includes everything from helping them find locations and assessing the Minot business client to see if it's right for their company to introducing them to the locals and getting them involved in the business community in Minot.
"It's also job development. We're constantly working on the MADC website to attract people from other parts of the country to move to Minot to find jobs and build homes and move their families here," Kramer said. "Those are really the two biggest functions, but really it's just facilitating economic development any way we can."
He said that also includes working with current Minot businesses. Although much of what MADC gets press for involves helping to lure new companies to the Magic City, Kramer said the work they do to help established Minot businesses is just as important.
"Whether that be helping them find employees looking to move to Minot, or to expand their own facilities locally, that's also a significant function of the MADC," Kramer said. "And projects like our help with Minot Sash & Door is kind of an example of a local business that has worked with MADC. They rebounded from that fire they had several years ago. MADC kind of assisted them in relocating."
As the new chairman, Kramer will be a key spokesman for the organization and assist Jerry Chavez, who is president and CEO of MADC. Kramer will also meet new clients, oversee activities of the board and assist in setting the course for the organization over the coming years.
Although the Souris River flood will present Kramer with a lot of challenges, he said there will also be a lot of opportunities. The flood not only destroyed the lives and homes of thousands of Minot residents, it had a devastating effect on local businesses and the MADC's ability to attract new companies.
"It also certainly affected an organization like ours because you have to sort of keep in mind that a significant portion of Minot is still not much further developed from what it was right after the flood," Kramer said. "When businesses are looking to come to town, certainly housing is an issue now, as it was before the flood."
Kramer said that ideally, they want not just new employees moving to Minot, but their families as well.
Along with the challenges are opportunities, such as those the oil and information technology industries present. Agriculture is also riding high, which in turn helps lift up the value-added ag processing industry. Kramer said value-added ag is becoming a significant portion of their efforts.
"Fortunately last year, Jay Fisher was our chairperson, and he's the NDSU extension director. He gave us all a good agricultural education, and Jay told us all that the world population is 7 billion this year, and it'll be 9 billion sometime in the next 50 years, and North Dakota's going to play a significant role in feeding the world's population," Kramer said. "So it's really important and critical for us to develop those agricultural products close to home where those goods are grown and produced."
Kramer said while business developments seem to happen quickly, it actually takes several years to set things up and entice companies to come to Minot. Looking at his goals for 2012, Kramer is basically looking to help facilitate some of the projects that were already in the works in years past and are just now coming to fruition.
A specific focus he will have is working to build up the ag park, which is off to a good start with construction of United Pulse, a pulse processing facility, set to wrap up this summer.
While the challenges in Minot are great, Kramer sees the opportunities as even greater. Opportunities like this are the reason he came back home, and they are the reason he intends to stay for the long haul.
"It's an exciting time to be in business in North Dakota right now. We're very fortunate to be where we're at," Kramer said. "I'm very proud to own a business in this part of the country. Everybody who comes through that door is an honest, hardworking person. And it's just a pleasure, not only to serve those communities, but also to employ over 150 people from western North Dakota."