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Downtown Dickinson not just for small businesses, National and regional operations plant roots in unlikely spot

Downtown Dickinson doesn't just house small mom-and-pop shops or boutiques like it has for decades. Now, alongside them are established national and regional companies who have set up shop in the heart of the city. Cheryl Viola, the new executive...

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Adam Isakson, an engineer in training, sits with Deon Stockert, the regional client program leader for AE2S, to review plans at the firm’s downtown Dickinson office on Feb 1. (Kalsey Stults/The Dickinson Press)

Downtown Dickinson doesn’t just house small mom-and-pop shops or boutiques like it has for decades. 

Now, alongside them are established national and regional companies who have set up shop in the heart of the city.

Cheryl Viola, the new executive director of the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce, is happy these businesses are there.

“The bigger businesses help the stability of downtown,” she said. “It’s just awesome that they have locations in Dickinson that are outside of their headquarters.”

City Administrator Shawn Kessel echoes Viola’s statement.

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“It’s wonderful to have large companies downtown, a large presence downtown,” Kessel said. “I think to make downtown vibrant, you have to have many people.”

The big companies have one thing in common with small businesses downtown - they’ve made it their home and plan on keeping it that way.

AE2S in background of Alive at 5

A Dickinson native brought a new business to downtown Dickinson in 2014.

“Thank you to the Bakken for all of its craziness, because that definitely played a role, a big factor, in why we got to open our office,” said Deon Stockert, the regional client program leader for engineering firm AE2S. “It’s been great. We love Dickinson. The staff loves Dickinson.”

Stockert remembers sitting with his family watching fireworks on the Fourth of July in Dickinson and his sister asking him about how he felt about downtown. After talking to the developer of the remodeled historic Elks Building, which originally housed Dickinson State University and went through a major facelift after a fire, Stockert made plans to make the building work for AE2S, which is known for it’s water engineering.

“Our specialty is working in rural North Dakota, which we love,” Stockert said.

The move to downtown from it’s original home in the Advanced Vision Center building, where it was located from 2010 to 2014 has been enjoyed by the employees.

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“Our employees really like it,” Stockert said. “It’s in the center. It doesn’t matter if you’re north end or south end (of Dickinson), it’s five minutes from anything.”

With massive windows looking out onto downtown, Stockert admires the view you can see from their conference room, especially on Thursday nights in the summer when the Alive at 5 street fair and concert series has the streets lively.

“Thursdays are like a party in this office,” Stockert said.

Alive at 5’s former promoter, Eric Smallwood, approached AE2S to use its space to host musical guests. Their board room, which overlooks the corner of First Street West and First Avenue West, serves as the green room.

“They like to look out and see how the opening acts are doing,” Stockert said. “They can get dressed upstairs in that hotel suite we have. And they can go out and perform and then come back in.”

The proximity to the businesses is something he and his 10 employees don’t take for granted.

“That’s one cool thing about being downtown, when we have big clients over, we can just walk over to one of the restaurants,” he said. “I love that downtown Dickinson has all that. When I was a kid, that didn’t always exist.”

Plaques and awards hang neatly on the walls at AE2S. Stockert jokes that the firm is going to have so many that it will reach from floor to ceiling of their 20-foot ceiling.

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“We call our service, extreme client service. It’s true of our staff,” he said. “Our employees work extremely hard and you can tell when you talk to our clients that they like that. It’s infectious. We have a really good staff here in Dickinson.”

One of Stockert’s favorite projects he has been involved in is the Williston Regional Water Treatment Plant. But his favorite aspect of the job is seeing it all come full circle.

“For me personally, I love seeing full circle, from an inception of someone’s idea - whether it’s from a client’s idea or they have a problem and it’s our idea to solve that problem - then taking it through design, then to construction, then back to operations,” Stockert said.

And full circle he has come. The Dickinson native, after moving across the nation for his career, can call Dickinson home again.

“I graduated in 1985 as a (Trinity) Titan, my wife is a (Dickinson High) Midget. She graduated in ’83,” Stockert said, “It’s been awesome to come back home and do our thing at work, but at nights get to go hang out, and weekends hang out with our family.”

DOWL: From Alaska to North Dakota

DOWL is a consulting engineer company that found its footing in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1962 and treked nearly 2,700 miles to Dickinson six years ago as it expanded into North Dakota.

“We chose Dickinson because it is a very accessible town,” said DOWL President and CEO Stewart G. Osgood. “(It) seemed like a very nice business environment and climate, and a nice place for our workers to live and raise their families.”

Dickinson is DOWL’s only location in North Dakota. It employs 10 people.

The company prides itself on its expertise in environmental and land development, water resources, transportation, civil engineering, and geo-construction.

Adam J. McGill, a senior transportation engineer and the Dickinson office manager, knows the importance of having DOWL downtown.

“We wanted to be connected downtown,” he said. “We like to be close to the city office and businesses. We didn’t want to be off hidden somewhere behind a bush. We want to be in front of people, so that’s why we chose downtown.”

Osgood notes that it’s a focus of theirs throughout the company to develop those relationships.

“We have a history of being successful in working in relatively small communities,” he said. “We develop relationships with the local authorities, with the state governments and counties in all of our towns and communities, and then we try to bring world-class talent to their doorstep.”

DOWL added a materials lab last year, which is mostly used for contracts with the state.

Levi Martinez, a geotechnical engineer and the lab manager for the materials lab, moved to Dickinson from Denver and joked that the city is what Colorado was 25 years before all of the Californians started moving in. But he has enjoyed his time here and called it a great place to live.

Martinez tests soils and road durability.

“It’s pretty simple what we do, we just play with dirt,” he said with a laugh.

Jennifer Payne, DOWL’s chief marketing officer, said DOWL intends to ride the economic ups and downs of the Bakken oil play and plan to stay a fixture in Dickinson for years to come.

“Our goal is that a lot of our clients still have work, so we want to provide those services that when there are only a few firms that they are still picking us,” Payne said. “No matter what is happening in the community, there is usually still work to be had and we want to be the firm that if our clients have one spec of work to give, they give it to us.”

JLG puts its ‘boots on the ground’

JLG Architects has set up shop on the first floor of the Dickinson Elks Building - two floors below AE2S - and doesn’t planning on going anywhere soon.

Rob Remark, the firm’s market leader in Dickinson, thinks it’s a positive that the business doesn’t have to rely on the oil industry to feel secure in his position.

“Maybe the beauty for working in architecture diversified across the state is that we don’t rely just on the oil market,” he said. “We design community buildings. Maybe there’s been more of that market when the economy is hot and when.”

JLG has plenty of new projects coming to life, including the Killdeer Aquatics and Wellness Center, the Stark County Fairgrounds and the Stark County Courthouse expansion.

Remark said his favorite part of the job is working with the different people.

“Everyone is really just so friendly. They just want what is best and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hidden agendas or things like that,” he said. “It’s like ‘What can we do here to improve the situation.’”

Remark said JLG’s priority is making sure its work is done on time and on budget.

But it also places an importance of being connected to the community.

“We fully believe in boots on the ground, and we want to provide our clients the best service just through attention and care, and literally through having people there so it’s been important to JLG to live where we work,” he said.

Remark has been at JLG’s Dickinson location for more than a year and is looking forward to adding more people to its staff “when the right people come forward.”

Related Topics: DICKINSON
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