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New Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller good for business across state, say eastern North Dakota business leaders

Before working in the governor’s office, Miller had a long career in the private sector, including serving as the CEO of Fargo-based Border States for nearly 14 years.

Tammy Miller, right, speaks at a press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, where Gov. Doug Burgum introduced her as North Dakota's next lieutenant governor.
North Dakota Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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GRAND FORKS – Two business leaders in eastern North Dakota say the state’s new lieutenant governor is good for business across the state.

Tammy Miller, a longtime businesswoman turned state employee, was sworn in as lieutenant governor after former Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford resigned effective Jan 2. Miller had served as Gov. Doug Burgum’s chief operating officer since April 2020.

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Before working in the governor’s office, she had a long career in the private sector, including serving as the CEO of Border States, a Fargo-based wholesale electrical supply distributor, for nearly 14 years.

Brian Johnson, CEO of Choice Bank and a co-chair of the Valley Prosperity Partnership, said he and others in the VPP — a group of business and community leaders with a goal of pursuing economic opportunity to benefit the Red River Valley — are excited about Miller’s appointment.

“We’re grateful for the former lieutenant governor’s service to the state and certainly believe Tammy, through her qualifications and being in the Burgum administration here the last couple of years, is well prepared to have a firm grasp on the issues for the state of North Dakota as a whole,” he said.

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Miller started her career in public accounting before taking a job at Border States in 1991. She worked at the company for nearly 30 years, serving as CEO for her final 14 years at Border States. Under her leadership, the company grew from a $485 million company to a $2.5 billion company. Today, Border States has more than 100 locations in 24 states.

“I started with the company when the company was very small, and it was kind of like working for a startup,” said Miller. “I got to work in a lot of areas of business, even though my focus was primarily accounting.”

Miller also served on a number of volunteer boards, including as the co-chair of the VPP, a position she held until becoming COO in the Governor’s Office.

So far, her varied experience in business has transferred well to the public sector, says Miller. As COO of the Governor’s Office, she worked to standardize state agency websites to make them easier to navigate for residents of North Dakota, which is similar to work at Border States to simplify customer experience through mergers and acquisitions across the United States. Leading a company, she learned that economic diversification within a company can help it better navigate economic downturns.

“That is something that’s really important in the state, and a key piece of the governor’s Main Street initiative,” she said. “We are working really hard for continued economic development and diversification in the state.”

Miller says her experience in the private sector will help businesses in North Dakota because she knows what it is like to run a business.

“We strongly believe in innovation over regulation, and having been in business, completely understand how important it is to be easy to do business with as a state,” said Miller. “That certainly will help us attract and retain new businesses if we’re easy to do business with, have less regulation and promote more innovation to solve more problems.”

For most of her life, Miller has lived and worked in eastern North Dakota. She is originally from Brocket, North Dakota, near Devils Lake, attended college at Minnesota State University Moorhead and spent most of her career in Fargo. She now lives in Mandan.

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Johnson expects Miller’s experiences in eastern North Dakota to carry through into her state leadership, he said.

Steve Burian, who served as co-chair of the VPP with Miller and is CEO of Burian & Associates, said Miller always approached North Dakota as one big entity when she was in business. She has many connections to eastern North Dakota, he said.

“I think she’ll be able to bring some perspectives to eastern North Dakota in a very apt way,” he said.

Johnson and Burian agree Miller's leadership is good news for business across the state, not just eastern North Dakota. Johnson said Burgum and Miller both know what it is like to be on the business end of public-private partnerships.

“Doug and Tammy are totally in tune with that stuff because when they were running their businesses, it was important to the community,” he said. “Well, now it's important to the whole state.”

Miller says she has great relationships and contacts in eastern North Dakota, but is familiar with the needs of western North Dakota because of her work across the state with Border States.

“In many years, a lot of the profitability was coming from the western part of the state with different oil booms that have happened over the years, so I am very familiar and passionate about what happens in the western part of the state as well,” she said.

Making connections with leaders and constituents in western North Dakota is a priority for Miller in her new role. The lieutenant governor serves as the president of the Senate, so with the Legislature in session, getting to know the senators is a top priority.

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“Once we get through session I hopefully get to get out, as I like to say, in the field and start meeting a lot of our constituents all over the state. But I probably need to have a greater focus on the western part of the state just to build some of those relationships and hear firsthand from them how they’re doing and how we can help out,” she said.

Related Topics: TAMMY MILLERDOUG BURGUM
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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