WORTHINGTON — Growing up on a farm southwest of Worthington, Dan Krueger knew he wanted to work outside, but he also knew he needed a career that involved more than raising corn and soybeans. His dream was to create outdoor living spaces that were as inviting as the interior of people’s homes.

The 2006 graduate of Worthington High School earned his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from SDSU, and the decision to return to his hometown was an easy one since he’d already established a business here during his summers off from college.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with plants and growing things and, as I was going to school, the hardscape side — retaining walls and paver patios — was really picking up speed.” shared Krueger. That’s where he gained experience in construction and concrete work.

With the added experience, Krueger expanded Ideal Landscape Design into a full-scale concrete business six years ago. That's about the same time he and another Worthington native, Al Drost, teamed up to collaborate in home construction under DK Buildings.

Today, between the landscaping, concrete, real estate development and home building, Krueger has up to 18 employees during the busiest of times.

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“When Al Drost and I teamed up, we were working on bigger landscaping projects together,” Krueger shared. “That’s when the real need for housing was identified. It just kind of felt like there wasn’t much happening and there was an opportunity for us to get into that market.”

Krueger and Drost were talking about developing some parcels around Worthington when Nobles County, the city of Worthington and Independent School District 518 collaborated on the Nobles Home Initiative. Developed by the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp., the program offers five years of tax abatement on new home construction within the county.

The timing was perfect for Krueger and Drost.

“It’s been a very good program,” Krueger said. “It definitely encourages people to build new, versus buying used.”

DK Buildings currently has three housing developments in progress — the South Lake Development, located south and west of Worthington’s Prairie Elementary; Six Fairway View, along the western side of Great Life Golf & Fitness; and a newly proposed project on East Avenue, between Nobles County 5 and the Frosty Riders Snowmobile Club building.

“The idea there is to do market rate rentals or starter homes,” Krueger said, adding that sewer and water work was completed on the site. “Four of the six lots could have duplexes on them.”

With the city adding a lot of rental units in the last five years, Krueger said there remains a shortage of single-family, market rate rentals. Meeting that demand, however, isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“Our struggle is, if we want to build a new build and make it market rate, the rents that would be required to get a return off of it would be more than the market will allow,” shared Krueger. “That’s where we’re sitting as a community. For a professional who comes to town and wants to rent a nice, newer place, having a rent that’s affordable is very difficult.

“Somehow we need to figure out how to get these here,” he added. “With the private market, I don’t think it’s going to happen without some help from a government level.”

While Krueger hopes the East Avenue lots can begin to be developed this summer, the ongoing nationwide building materials shortage may impact what can get done.

With the materials shortage, prices have gone up, and that will make it even more difficult to get properties to cash flow at a market rate price without outside money injected into the projects, he added.

“When we’re doing these little developments, we’re putting in our own infrastructure, using our own employees and our own equipment,” Krueger said, adding that it helps save costs in the long run.

Through the winter, DK Buildings was busy working on a new twin-home in the Six Fairway View addition along Crailsheim Road.

“It started as a spec and after the rough framing was up, one half was sold,” Krueger said, adding that the buyer is able to customize what she wants for the rest of the build. “We’re finishing out the other half with our own touches to it.

“Out here, we do have a younger demographic than what we thought we were going to have,” he shared.

Not only is DK Buildings constructing the homes, but its workers are also doing all of the landscaping work. One of their projects is the 10th Street Plaza in downtown Worthington.

“Our landscaping guys are helping with these builds,” Krueger said. “We’ve taken our employees from dedicated dirt workers and broadened the scope of what we do.

“It also helps to fill some of our winter time when we can’t be out digging or when there’s no snow to remove.”

Krueger said envisions the future of the business in doing what it's already doing, and to keep building.

“We enjoy doing it,” he said. “We’ve kind of found our place. We enjoy the landscaping stuff, all the building, the sewer and water work. We’re doing all of the site prep … and when it comes to the rough framing, then we’re subbing that out.”

When they do bring in subcontractors, Krueger said they keep it local.

“Everyone is within a local radius of 20 miles from town,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in that. I hope other people are seeing that as well.”

While Krueger keeps busy working in his businesses, he has made a point to help when and where he can. He served six years on the Sunset Hospice Cottage board of directors, during which he constructed pergola structures, worked on the trail system and reconstructed some retaining walls on the property.

“My vision when I was on the board was that the outdoor space should be as nice as the inside — blending the exterior and the interior,” he shared, adding that his term ended in 2020.

Krueger joined the city of Worthington’s Parks and Rec Advisor Board a couple of years ago, and continues to devote time to that.

“That’s exciting to me,” he said. “Through my training in college, we were taught that healthy communities have healthy parks, nice parks — parks that people want to go to. People need those outdoor spaces for their mental health. Kids need them to develop a creative bone in their body.

“It’s been exciting to see the community get behind these park projects,” he added. “The city has really taken it to heart to have Worthington have first-class parks. We’re going to have some of the nicest parks of any community around here.”

With two young girls, Krueger and his wife, Sara, will likely be spending a lot of time in the local parks. Their daughter Madison is 5, while Brooklyn is 2.