Most large organizations that have a global presence and dozens of locations around the United States need a place to call “home,” and RDO Equipment Co. is no different.
The Field Support Office (FSO) — with locations in Fargo, ND, and Moorhead, MN — assists locations on a daily basis with needs ranging from Accounting and Finance to Information Technology (IT) to Human Resources and many other functions.
Going back nearly 50 years, though, the history of what is now the FSO is somewhat complicated.
In the early days, the company’s home “offices” were in founder Ron Offutt’s basement just outside south Moorhead. Around 1970, more space was needed, and the company’s offices were moved to their first standalone building, a 20-foot by 36-foot structure in Glyndon, MN, just a dozen miles east of Moorhead. This building mainly housed Ron’s office and focused on support of the farming side of the business.
With the business expanding rapidly — and with the company’s farming operations being run out of the same space — Ron Offutt decided that a larger space was again needed. This space would need to reflect the growing presence of the company and be in closer proximity to legal and financial partners.
In 1976, space was purchased in the FM Center in downtown Moorhead and the company moved into the newly remodeled space.
Up to that point, the name Ronald Offutt and Son had been on the façade of the company building, but Ron instructed the sign painter to instead use R.D. Offutt Company. (Both he and his father shared the middle initial “D” and are senior and junior.) Today, this remains the name of the enterprise’s holding company.
As the company continued to grow, Ron again became restless. Never one to be tied to a building, he found new space in the Dakota Bank building in downtown Fargo. In April 1984 the company moved into that building.
“When I walked into that building on my first day, there were six people there,” said Tom Espel, Treasurer for R.D. Offutt Company. “But after that point we really continued to grow.”
A few years later, space was again at a premium. In the early 1990s, the American Life Insurance Company in south Fargo consolidated with an out-of-town company and its property became available. Ron quickly purchased the building. In the late 1990s, Ron wanted to expand into the second floor of the building but was unable to because of a long-term lease that was in place. So, he purchased two floors of the Radisson Hotel to house some employees while he looked for a solution.
“We quickly outgrew that space and moved north into a floor at the American Federal building,” Espel said.
Prior to RDO Equipment Co. going public in 1997, the decision was made to take some of the non-customer-facing functions out of the equipment stores and bring them into one centralized location. After many years of having a modest main office that served the farming side of the business with support for the equipment locations, the downtown spaces really became the current version of the FSO, serving the equipment company as a focus.
“Accounting was one of the key areas that was consolidated from equipment store locations at that time,” said Steve Dewald, Executive Vice President. “Also, we really began to expand and grow our IT presence.”
Steve said that they weren’t sure how supportive Ron Offutt would be of the increasing reliance on computers, so they used the building’s layout to be a little sneaky. “The American Federal building had a front door that Ron could see and a back door. When we purchased PCs all the boxes came in the back door and the empty boxes went out the same door so Ron wouldn’t see them all.”
But even with offices in multiple buildings, space became tight again. In 2002, a new solution became apparent. Ron purchased the former Clarica Life Insurance Company building on the south end of Island Park in Fargo. The 44,000-square-foot building had spacious grounds and ample parking. After a renovation, management and staff moved into the building. By 2003, 110 employees that had been spread around Fargo — along with those from the American Family building and the Radisson — moved into the Island Park building. Late in 2003, nearly 190 employees were under one roof. Today, more than 200 employees work in the Island Park building.
Espel said that Shelly Neal (Ron Offutt’s daughter and an interior designer) and her husband Scott (president of PROffutt real estate) did a remarkable job modernizing the building while keeping the traditional touches.
“This building reminded me of my elementary school growing up,” Espel said. “Cinderblock walls, institutional windows. They managed to turn the building into a modern office building while still keeping the character of the building intact.”
Steve credits Christi Offutt with suggesting (“No, pretty much insisting”) that office walls would all be glass. “She was adamant that the building would have an openness, a transparency. It really helped create and then reinforce our culture.”
An interesting sidenote: The building is located on the site where President Teddy Roosevelt addressed citizens in 1910 during the dedication of the Carnegie Library of Fargo College. The marker commemorating the event still is preserved on the property just south of the building.
Around 2010, staff began to outgrow the Island Park space. A section of a building on 12th Avenue South in Moorhead was converted into the Moorhead FSO for employees; a daycare center occupied some of the rest of the building. Over the next 4-5 years, RDO Equipment Co. expanded to fill the entire building. Today nearly 100 staff members work there.
Additionally, pockets of employees are still scattered around the city of Fargo at the Bank of the West building (PROffutt real estate) and on west 13th Avenue South (BC Contracting). The FSO has also expanded through the use of home-based teleworkers in several states.
For the last 12-18 months, efforts have been under way to partner with several other community and development companies to build a large multipurpose building — Block 9 — in downtown Fargo that would bring all the FSO employees together under one roof. Will that be the next iteration of the FSO? Only time will tell, but one things is for sure:“No matter what happens,” Steve said, “we will be in a place where we will need more space. History tells us that we will continue to grow to serve our locations and our customers.”