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Skybridge marketing firm looks to expand with up to 200 jobs in Bemidji

Bemidji tops several regional communities, including Fargo and Grand Forks, for call center

A Minnesota-based company has chosen Bemidji for expanding its marketing business and adding up to 200 new jobs in the region.

Skybridge Marketing Group, which describes itself as a customer service and e-commerce leader in the marketing industry, is expected to finalize details of the expansion after visiting Bemidji early next month, said Dave Hengel, executive director for the area's Joint Economic Development Commission.

The company's headquarters is based in Greenfield near the Twin Cities and has an office in Winnipeg.

"They are looking to expand to a location relatively between the two," Hengel said Wednesday. "If you look at the unemployment rate in the Bemidji area and the amount of talent... there is a pool of labor to fill the positions."

Skybridge works with Fortune 1000 companies and national brands, and chose expanding in Bemidji instead of Park Rapids, Detroit Lakes, the Twin Cities metro and the North Dakota cities of Fargo and Grand Forks. Many of the jobs are expected to be customer-service oriented in a call center environment.

Hengel said Joe Thomas, president and CEO of Skybridge, was impressed with the pool of local workers, educational and training opportunities, telecommunications infrastructure and incentives offered in Bemidji.

The expansion comes with a couple caveats, including leasing space in Bemidji and getting the final approval from major customers, but Hengel said the deal "looks good."

Thomas could not be reached late Wednesday for comment.

Next month, Skybridge plans to bring its vice presidents from Minnesota and Canada to shore up and finalize details, including a long-term lease, financing options available and meeting with key education officials about training workers.

"That is not a done deal but they are going to try to make that decision in February," Hengel said.

The company plans to hire 25 to 50 people by the end of June, and eventually employ 200 workers in Bemidji, he said.

"There is some potential for more because of the telecommunications infrastructure in the area" and Skybridge potentially moving some of its information technology and data services from Winnipeg, Hengel said.

Work to sway Skybridge to the area began with the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce.

Lori Paris, the chamber president, and Rita Albrecht, a member of the JEDC board and Bemidji City Council, visited Skybridge to tout Bemidji as an expansion site.

"They're coming here because we have the workforce they need," Paris said. "Bemidji was able to meet all their requirements and beyond."

Paris said she expects Skybridge will fill a variety of jobs, including mid- to upper-management posts, and the company's decision is "another way to put Bemidji on the map as a good place to do business."

Additionally, after touring the Greenfield location, she said the company appears concerned about employees' professional development and well-being.

"They seem like a really good, quality company," Paris said.

Wage information was not available, but Skybridge's website said the company offers a comprehensive benefits package, including medical, dental, vision, 401k, short/long term disability and vacation.

Hengel said some of those benefits are as important as wages.

Several influential and key parties - including educational, communications, government and economic development leaders - played a role in selling Bemidji to Skybridge, said Hengel, adding the impact will be felt throughout the community.

"It's huge for Bemidji," he said. "Anytime you can create that number of jobs the spin off benefits are widespread... When you are able to bring in good corporate citizens to the Bemidji community, the economic pie increases and everybody benefits."

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

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