highroad partners michelle kommer

Taking The High Road

Written By: Brady Drake, Fargo Inc!

Photos by: J. Alan Paul Photography

Michelle Kommer’s Next Career Move Will Provide a Much Needed Service for Area Small Businesses

Michelle Kommer knew that when her position as Commerce Commissioner ended, there would be a next step. With her four-year term ending with the 2020 election, “the plan” was to work on defining those next steps the summer prior. The plan went by the wayside when a global pandemic hit and her job was all-consuming, leaving no time to think about her own future. But just like the opportunity to serve in the Burgum administration came out of nowhere, so too, did the road leading to that next step. Except this time, with a lot of encouragement from her husband Toby Kommer, it was something she’d been imagining for a long time.

Today, Michelle is the owner of HighRoad Partners, a name that has significance, for a company specializing in individual and group health insurance, and soon, human resources solutions. A company that in partnership with Toby’s companies, contributes to their joint passion for helping small businesses grow and thrive. The name HighRoad Partners was selected with care. It represents a personal anthem for Michelle – one that those that have worked with her have heard repeatedly when confronted with hard choices. “Take the high road. The view is better from there.” Michelle acquired the Arneson Osvak Agency, a company that was originally founded by Tammy Halverson, on October 1. The two will continue to work together with the team to ensure a seamless transition for clients, while they also work to build the new line of services that will complement services offered by HagaKommer CPA firm and Aspire Bank which are owned by Toby. As part of the Kommer’s partnership plan, the additional services offered by HighRoad Partners will contribute to their goal of providing a “one stop shop” for business owners, so they can focus on their core business, while working with experts for their tax, finance, accounting, banking, insurance, investments, and now HR and benefits needs. The Kommer’s believe this will be not only convenient for their customers, but will exponentially increase their satisfaction and business success.

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“In the past, small business owners have always had to connect those dots themselves,” said Toby. “When they walk into our businesses, we connect those dots for them, bringing the experts to the same table in the same room, each working for the success of the client.” According to Toby, he has seen the need to provide his clients with HR and benefits support for some time now. In her recent role as North Dakota’s Labor Commissioner and most recently Commerce Commissioner, Michelle saw Toby’s observations affirmed, and got a “huge dose of inspiration” to meet that need through encouragement from Toby, and also from the courage she observed every day in North Dakota’s entrepreneurial and small business community. The Kommer’s are excited to build on the successful model already in place with the HagaKommer and Aspire companies, where Toby and his team see results of these combined and focused efforts benefit their clients every single day. “You can walk right into our building in South Fargo and you can tell right away what we do is a team effort,” said Toby. “Yeah we have three different logos, but our banker is literally sitting right next to our CPA and the CPA is sitting right next to our insurance team member and we do everything together.” “When the CARES Act went into effect and made the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan available, unlike any other standalone bank or CPA firm, because we are one team, we were able to proactively contact our clients before they knew what the PPP was or if they needed a PPP loan. As a result, we processed more PPP loans in the first few days than most banks. Not only did it prove our model works, but it was so rewarding to be able to help our clients so quickly in such a time of need.” While the significance of the collaboration of the existing HagaKommer and Aspire companies was proven through their reaction to the PPP, it also emphasized the significant need for the missing HR piece. “So, our clients started peppering us with questions about the CARES Act, and some pretty big HR questions were raised, ‘How do we do this?’ ‘What can we do?’”. Being able to provide our clients with expert HR resources going forward will be a huge benefit.”

According to Michelle, about 85 percent of North Dakota employers have less than 20 employees and about 60 percent have less than five employees, making the hire of a full-time HR professional impractical, and meaning that the owner, or office manager become the de facto “HR person” (sometimes to their dismay), often taking away time and energy from the core business. Michelle has spoken to several business owners in this position who express concern over what change in rules or law is going to come up next that they don’t know about, or whether they are “doing it right”. “Small business owners are super smart people, and ‘small’ should never be confused with ‘unsophisticated’”, said Kommer. “But these smart business people are busy! They’re busy wearing 1,000 hats, like running the operation, growing, scaling, planning for the next big thing, whether that’s building new technology or trying to grow a manufacturing operation. They know that their human infrastructure is critical to their business, and that their team is their most important asset, but they have so much competition for their time.” That’s where the advantage comes in of having an HR department that is an extension of your business. According to Michelle, the typical staffing model is that you have one HR professional for every 100 employees. It’s in the space below 100 employees where things are difficult. The person who became the “HR person” by necessity cannot be an expert in all the disciplines of HR, and often, feels the stress that something is being missed. Also according to Michelle, as learned through her experience as an employment attorney and former Labor Commissioner, too often, it is. “That’s exactly where we are hoping to step in. To provide small companies with a breadth of HR competence and experience, along with the HR technology of a large company, at a reasonable price. To provide business owners and HR-hat-wearers that sigh of relief, and the confidence that their partner can wear that HR hat for them.” 

The 5 Functions of HR

  1. Recruiting/Onboarding
  2. Benefits/Administration
  3. Compensation/Analysis
  4. Performance Management
  5. Learning & Development

Michelle readily admits that she is a business process geek. She also jokes that she has tried to escape HR twice and finds herself back in the space, because ultimately she believes it’s where the most difference can be made. But, her track record is no laughing matter.

In addition to being the former Labor Commissioner and
Commerce Commissioner of North Dakota, Michelle is also:

“At HighRoad Partners, we are offering ‘HR in-sourcing’. That (new) word is important because ‘out-sourcing’ suggests the company is giving something away. Not so with HighRoad Partners. We are part of your team. We are invested in your success and part of your company’s DNA.”

Michelle looks forward to building upon an already strong core at HighRoad Partners Insurance & Benefits, with a passionate team and reputation for being client-focused experts in group and individual health insurance, including Medicare policies, to deliver HR support for small businesses through HighRoad Partners HR Solutions. They will provide customized services designed specifically for each client, versus some of the cookie-cutter services offered in the HR outsourcing (HRO) industry, and will have packages to meet each business where it is at, with transparent pricing.

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