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The Advice That Helped Them Get There: The Greater Fargo-Moorhead EDC

What It Takes For Success

The path to success is hardly ever traveled alone, and rarely comes without a few bumps in the road. There’s often a multitude of factors that play into one person’s climb to the top of their ranks. We spoke with a handful of determined and successful people with ties to the Fargo-Moorhead area regarding what, and who, they believe helped them find success in the area we’re proud to call home. Join us as we introduce these individuals over the coming months.

John Machacek is the Chief Innovation Officer of Greater Fargo Moorhead EDC. The GFMEDC’s core purpose is to cultivate an economic environment where all people and organizations flourish in the area. With the goal of brightening the future of our area’s economy, Machacek is here to support all members of the local business community, no matter how big or small a person’s ambition is to make a difference in the FMWF area.

Did you know?
The Greater Fargo/Moorhead Economic Development Corporation has been around for over 75 years. The organization was initially started to help create the industrial parks and spur development, and over time evolved into an economic development organization fostering primary sector growth for Cass and Clay Counties.

How did you get to the position you’re in today?

I began working a mix of food and retail management for the most part throughout my early career. I was looking to reset my career path and had an interest in economic development. I wrote a good cover letter on why, as a current manager at my job, I was applying for an administrative assistant job at the EDC. I quickly worked my way up into new responsibilities and roles; left for a 6-year gap as I worked in banking and for a non-profit, then came back 10 years ago. Within about a year into my second tenure, my role began to delve into entrepreneurial development and it became a larger function of my role about 7-8 years ago.

What is the GFMEDC’s primary focus?

The primary focus of the GFMEDC (Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation) is on primary sector companies, which for the most part have a value-add product or service and most of their revenue is not derived from local customers. These are companies that help bring new wealth into your region by having customers around the country and world. It is common for EDCs to focus on that and it’s also common that economic programs are for those types of businesses.

Throughout his journey to the position he’s in today, Machacek has gained a wealth of knowledge and lessons learned over his time with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Chamber EDC. He elaborated on some of the advice that he believes in and attributes to some of his successes.

1. Always plan a properly executed plan.

Execution can be just as important as planning, because if you continue to plan without ever executing on the plan, then it will never go anywhere. Everybody has ideas, but there is little value in the idea if you never get the idea out of your head and take action on it.

2. Don’t be afraid to not know the answers to some things.

It’s better to say you don’t know the answer and look into/learn from it, as opposed to B.S.’ing your way through something, as that could lead to future issues and lost credibility. With that, don’t be afraid to ask others when seeking out answers, as you could waste a lot of time researching it or attempting to do something yourself. I often see that with well-organized startups, as they know it’s worth the financial cost of outsourcing a task or solution to a professional as that professional can do it much faster and accurately. The entrepreneur’s time is much better spent on other parts of their business.

3. Always welcome resources.

There are a lot of resources and people out there to help, so don’t go into something totally alone. Grants themselves are somewhat of a myth or rarity, but organizations including SBDCs, SCORE, Women’s Business Center and EDCs are there as free resources for practical knowledge, connections and more.

4. Funding and credit can be a mix of science and art.

You could say that the science is the numbers and ratios that come from financial statements, but the art can also include their faith in your character and vision, and those types of gut feelings can’t be instantly developed. Don’t wait until you desperately need funding to establish some relationships with banks and funders. Even if you’ve developed the relationships, don’t wait until the bank account is nearly empty to have conversations about additional funding.

5. Always read the fine print.

In our world of primary sector economic development programs, many financing and tax programs will have particular steps and timelines, which we will tell you about in advance. With some of those timelines, if you don’t complete certain tasks first, it can be too late. So my advice on if a resource provider is sharing this information with you: PLEASE pay attention to it and set reminders to do them. That way, you don’t already add the jobs or buy the equipment or sign the lease, and then come to the provider saying, “Now what was that you said again about X program,” as your transaction may have caused that window opportunity to close.

6. Solicit input from others to look through and/or validate your plan.

I find entrepreneurs often “can’t see the forest for the trees” because they are so in the thick of all the business details. It could be that you’ve written and rewritten your plans a thousand times, to the point that you don’t see particular things or think of them. One example is to have an SBDC work through your financial projections as they may alert you to fixed and variable costs you aren’t thinking about, or internal projections that are highly unrealistic. Another example is having someone like me read through your business plan or pitch deck to view it as an outsider, who will bring up questions on things they don’t understand—because if they are asking that question, then maybe your customers or investors will be confused as well.

Overcoming Struggles.

Machacek stated that some of his biggest struggles were figuring out who he was and what kind of work he enjoys doing. “It was a combination of trial and error on my career path, as well as the continual learning process,” Machacek said.

To overcome the obstacles, he focused on being open to always learning and refraining from settling. “Even though I had very little self-confidence, I still pushed myself to try new jobs, meet new people and learn new things. Over time, due to gaining more confidence but also building my network, it got easier and easier,” Machacek said.

What have you learned that helped you become the professional that you are today?

I’ve become very cognizant of the potential ripple effects of any of your actions. Sometimes I trace back impactful things to moments where if I didn’t make that effort to talk to this person or participate in something, then these other things may not have happened in my life. The same goes with the help I give and the connections I make. Oftentimes, it only takes a brief moment of my time to do something, but the main thing is that if I do it and that person reciprocates by taking action themselves, that leads to their own ripples. In the big picture, it’s a great reason to always be thoughtful and actually engage in your life, and not just let life happen to you.

Have you had any notable mentors?

I’ve never had any particular mentors, but I’ve asked a lot of questions throughout my life and I pay attention to how people act, behave and make decisions. I’m more of a listener than a talker, which I think has allowed me to absorb life lessons more easily. I’ve had good jobs and bad jobs, and good bosses and not-so-good bosses, and have learned from all of them.

In addition, something that sticks out to me from a past personality assessment is that job titles and statures don’t really resonate well with me. With that, I never really put anyone on a pedestal, but there are a few people I admire for the way they treat people, the life they live and the positive impacts they have made.

Who inspires you?

In my life, that is easily the two children I helped bring into the world and raise. They are great kids (now adults) that I am very proud of. I feel very good about the father and husband I’ve been, as well as that I’m living a fulfilling life.

“We manage a loan fund that was created in the early 90s to encourage primary sector companies to make capital investments to grow their businesses. We’ve taken that initial $7.5 million that created the fund, and have lent out and revolved nearly $18 million in loans that have fostered capital investment expenditures of over $600 million, added 6 million square feet of property, created 6,500 jobs and help trigger about $30 million in matching grants for those expanding companies. The ROI on that $7+ million couldn’t be much better.”

-John Machacek

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Written by Grant Ayers

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