By: Mike Kopp, Bakken.com
Gene Veeder, the man coaching the Bakken region through the birth and growth of the oil boom, says he thinks Watford City and McKenzie County are stronger at the end of 2013 than in the beginning of the year. As the Executive Director of the McKenzie County Jobs Development Authority, Veeder stated that the county “turned the corner” in 2013. Veeder also stated that the challenge of the first years of the oil boom pushed the region’s infrastructure, but in 2013 it had started to even out.
“I think everyone would say we are managing things better now than when it started,” Veeder said. “Traffic, social services, law enforcement are all better now.”
When the Bakken oil boom began in 2007 and 2008, there were 1,500 people in the county seat of McKenzie County, Watford City. Today, it’s estimated there are 12,000 people in town. That’s put enormous pressure on services. “We’ve seen tremendous growth. Our school went from about 300 students to 1,000 students,” he said.
The exploding population has not only been a source of pressure on infrastructure, but it’s also been a sizable benefit to the local economy, a benefit that can be measured in sales tax collections. According to the most recent figures from the North Dakota Tax Commissioner, at the beginning of the most recent oil boom, sales and use taxes collected in Watford City were $7.5-million in the first quarter of 2008. Five years later, the second quarter of 2013, sales and use taxes collected in Watford city were more than $52-million. That means it took roughly six months of sales in 2008 to equal the retail trade in one month of 2013.
With all the additional retail activity comes the need for additional personnel. Veeder said many two-income families are moving to town with one income coming directly from employment with an oil field company and the other income source coming from the consumer service industry. “The trend we’ve seen is states like Idaho, Washington, Michigan and Minnesota are supplying many of the employees here.” That puts pressure on housing, which is one of the expansion goals for Watford City in 2014. “We would like to find better accommodations for them,” Veeder said.
More housing was built in 2013 and is planned for 2014. New apartment complexes, condominiums and short term housing at RV parks and hotels increased in 2013. Veeder says north of the hospital is a new housing development that includes retail space on the ground floor and living space on the floors above.
Commercial projects to be completed in 2014 include an MDU office building, a Tractor Supply Store and a Dakota West Credit Union building on Main Street. Both city and county buildings are expanding, and Veeder said the hospital and school will be expanding. “One of our goals is just to continue with more affordable housing,” he said.
Veeder characterized the region’s infrastructure as catching up to demand but it will not stop any time soon, balancing demand with supply. He credits the people of McKenzie County whom he calls positive and optimistic about growth because long-time residents have experience of previous oil booms. “This is the third time we’ve been through this,” he says.