Faces Of Fargo Business: Dr. J. J. Johnson, Karla Solum, Alicia Underlee Nelson

Written by: Fargo Inc Staff

By Nate Mickelberg and Sam Herder
Photography by Hillary Ehlen and J. Alan Paul Photography

We like to think of the Fargo business community as a giant puzzle and the people who comprise it as the different but equally essential pieces. Take one person, one company, or one industry away, and the picture becomes incomplete. Faces of Fargo Business is our chance to piece that puzzle together each month and celebrate the countless people who make this such a great place to work.

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Dr. J. J. Johnson

Owner, Saving Smiles Dentistry

Dr. J. J. Johnson


Read the following statement and try to guess who said it:
“I truly enjoy helping people and taking care of them. I feel a sense of value when I get a genuine thank you from my customers. They are trusting my team, which is why we do our very best to meet their needs.”

Who was the first person that came to mind? A banker? An insurance agent? A mechanic? If you said “dentist,” good for you, but for most people, that was probably pretty far down their list.

Despite starting a business at great personal risk, employing five to ten people minimum at a given practice, and wearing all the hats (and more) of a typical company head, we tend not to put medical professionals in the “entrepreneur” category — even though that’s exactly what Dr. J.J. Johnson is.

Johnson is the owner of Saving Smiles Dentistry in South Fargo, but you might know him better by his newly found local celebrity status as “The Guy Who Rented Out a Whole Movie Theater to Watch Star Wars.”

A graduate of Fargo South High School and Concordia College, Johnson returned to the FM area after completing dental school at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and in 2011, he purchased the practice of retiring dentist Marvin Ugland.

Johnson, who also volunteers with the Red River Valley Dental Access Project, an urgent care walk-in dental clinic for low-income patients, has one piece of practical advice for his fellow business owners out there:

“If your business offers dental insurance, encourage your employees to take advantage of it,” he says. “Dentistry goes hand in hand with other areas of medicine, in that routine care is not only good for your overall health and well-being but can help reduce expenses for care. A small problem caught early can be far less expensive than waiting for something to hurt and then going in to have it diagnosed.”

Saving Smiles Dentistry | SavingSmilesDentistry.com

Karla Solum

Founder, Elevate Human Potential

Karla Solum

Karla Solum’s mom has always told her, “Women can be successful in the business world. Sometimes, you might just have to work a bit harder to get to where you want to go.” Solum has taken those words of advice and run with them. As the owner of Elevate Human Potential/EHP CrossFit in Moorhead, she’s making a difference daily and has a daily goal of empowering people to be better than they were yesterday.

At EHP, which opened in December 2014, the focus is on performance and health rather than pain and illness. Proper movement and muscle engagement are taught to limit injuries and live a healthier life. Solum, who grew up in Barnesville, Minnesota, wears many hats for her business. She has become a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a Level 1, 2 and Kids CrossFit trainer and a USA Sports Performance coach. She also works internationally with USA Weightlifting and Beach Volleyball.

Her typical workday begins at 5 a.m., and her duties include training, CrossFit business work, clinic hours and treating patients.

“Our goal is to elevate everyone’s true human potential,” Solum says. “I’m a sports chiropractor, so part of that is doing sports chiropractic and bridging rehab to performance. We also have a CrossFit gym with members from ages 3 – 67. We do individualized coaching if they want, but it’s more of a group-coach setting. Every class is coached, and athletes are corrected on form and technique.”

EHP has programs or classes for all levels of health and age with the goal of becoming a better version of yourself. Their body transformation challenge, for example, dives into workouts and nutrition – from food prep to ordering off menus. But it also tracks moods to transform people’s lifestyles.

“It’s changing your lifestyle and creating a new you,” Solum said.

Solum is currently working on expanding two of EHP’s programs that are linked to nonprofits. EHP has started a women’s empowerment class and an adaptive athlete class. The women’s empowerment class is structured to help women who have been victims of rape, abuse, domestic violence, homelessness or adverse childhood experience. Partnering with Dress for Success, EHP is able to grant women scholarships to this program through their fundraising efforts. They have done similar things with Creative Care for Reaching Independence to grant adaptive or special-needs athletes scholarships to their specific classes.

“We know that everyone has a true human potential and we are here to help you find that and reach your goals,” Solum says.

Elevate Human Potential | ElevateHumanPotential.com

Alicia Underlee Nelson

Travel Writer, Photographer & Editor, Prairie Style File

Alicia Underlee Nelson

If the word “travel” conjures up images of riding a gondola in Venice, hiking the Great Wall of China or hitting the slopes in the Swiss Alps, Alicia Underlee Nelson would like you to expand your mental horizons a bit.

“I could talk to people all day long about how to live like a traveler in their own community,” says the author of the recently published “North Dakota Beer: A Heady History.” “We’re curious and open to new experiences when we travel because we engage our senses and we’re not stuck in our old routines. There are so many ways to mimic that experience in our day-to-day lives. Living this way has really changed my life.”

The 36-year-old is a West Fargo-based travel writer and photographer who covers the history, culture and food scene in the Midwest both for her own website, Prairie Style File, as well as outlets such as Food Network, USA Today, Delta Sky and Thomson Reuters. Before you get all starry-eyed about the life of a travel writer, though, she has a couple caveats.

“Travel writing looks glamorous from the outside,” warns Underlee Nelson, who, when she’s home, serves as a board member for the New American Consortium for Wellness and Empowerment, “but in reality, it’s lots of research, note-taking, networking and fact-checking. “I might only have an hour of free time a day on a trip. I’m traveling, but I’m definitely not on vacation.

“People always assume that I drank a whole lot of beer while writing my book. I wouldn’t have even gotten through the piles of research material if I had. But I have sampled beer from all the breweries in the book. That’s just good journalism!”

And when you’ve been to as many places as she has, you’re bound to pick up some practical travel advice, too.

“Whether you travel for business or pleasure, knowing the basic pleasantries in the local language makes life much easier,” says Underlee Nelson, who recommends a language-learning app called Duolingo. “If you do business with people who speak another language, it’s imperative. It’s a tremendous sign of respect and really strengthens relationships. This app makes language-learning really simple. You can breeze through a few lessons on your phone whenever you have a free moment.”

Prairie Style File | PrairieStyleFile.com

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