Brent Sanford knows and understands the issues that surround western North Dakota.
Born and raised in Watford City, Sanford was elected mayor in 2010. Thanks to the Bakken oil boom, the city’s population jumped from about 2,000 to 12,000 during his tenure.
The rapid increase in residents brought many challenges. Transport facilities were outdated. Water management needed to be upgraded. New infrastructure had to be created.
Under Sanford’s leadership, Watford City became a model city in the heart of the Oil Patch.
The city built a new high school, community events center and a law enforcement center.
Oil production workers moving to the area can now find housing, and a new hospital is being constructed. Four-lane highways and improved railways lead to the city, opening doors for more business and manufacturing growth.
To accomplish all this, Sanford secured funding from legislation, banks and developers. While many challenges still remain, Watford City now has a stronger infrastructure to support industry.
“We made it through as a bigger and better community,” Sanford said. “In Watford City, we talk about collaboration, teamwork and problem-solving. We’re all on the same team.”
Joining the governor’s race
Early this year, Fargo-based businessman and philanthropist Doug Burgum met Sanford during the Watford City Economic Development Banquet. Burgum, who announced his bid for North Dakota governor in January, got the chance to visit with Sanford and hear his story.
The two had many similarities. Both were raised in small North Dakota towns and want to empower local communities. Both men had strong business backgrounds and support the energy industry.
They both spent time living outside of North Dakota, but a desire to give back to their communities drew them back to their home state.
In April, Burgum announced Sanford as his running mate in the 2016 North Dakota gubernatorial election.
Burgum chose Sanford because he wanted a running mate who understood the impacts of both oil and agriculture in North Dakota. Sanford’s success in local government sealed the deal.
“We haven’t had representation from the oil-producing counties in the governor or lieutenant governor’s office,” Burgum said. “There have been all these impacts, but there hasn’t been representation.”
Sanford, 44, certainly has the experience and business acumen to help the state succeed.
After graduating from Watford City High School in 1990, Sanford studied accounting at the University of North Dakota and received his bachelor’s degree in 1994. He worked as a certified professional accountant for seven years at Eide Bailly in Fargo. He then made the move to Denver and served as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) with Transwest Trucks, a company that provides transportation products and services to commercial and retail customers.
But the call to move back home never lessened.
“I asked myself, what was my purpose in Denver?” Sanford said. “Being alone in a city of 3 million people was not the same as being back home.”
Return to North Dakota
Sanford’s family owned and operated an auto dealership in Watford City called S&S Motors. When his father, Wayne, decided to shut down the family business in 2004, Brent and his wife, Sandi, decided to purchase the dealership and move back home.
It’s a decision he’s never once regretted.
Sanford now enjoys life in Watford City with his wife and three children: Sydney, 15; Nicolas, 8; and Erin, 5.
When he first moved back in 2004, Watford City was an aging community with 40 kids in the graduating class. Last month, the high school saw 67 students graduate. The classes from Kindergarten through second grade have about 140 students each.
The move also gave Sanford the chance to give back to the community. He joined the city council in 2006 before being elected mayor four years later.
Sanford said his long-term goal for the state is diversification. He wants the people of North Dakota to take advantage of the unique energy and agricultural resources the state has to offer. Though the oil boom has slowed down due to depressed energy prices, the state is in a much better position to attract industry than it was 10 years ago.
“The agricultural opportunities are second-to-none. The energy opportunities are second-to-none,” Sanford said. “We also have a tremendous resource with our people.”
The resumes of both Burgum and Sanford speak for themselves. Their talents could have taken them anywhere in the country, but they chose to live in North Dakota and support their local communities.
Now, they hope to bring that community success statewide.
“We feel like the sky’s the limit for North Dakotans,” Sanford said. “We should be able to grow our economy and create more opportunities. We’ll be able to keep our kids home and recruit other young adults to move into the area for job opportunities. It’s a great future prospect that we have.”
The North Dakota Republican primary election takes place on Tuesday, June 14, with Doug Burgum-Brent Sanford being challenged by Wayne Stenehjem-Nicole Poolman and Paul Sorum-Michael Coachman. The winning ticket advances to the North Dakota gubernatorial election on Nov. 8.