Not everyone fit in to the ballroom for the annual Chamber of Commerce and Job Development Authority meeting in Watford City, Wednesday night. Chamber President Darick Franzen said at least 40 people were turned away because numbers had grown so much over previous years. Not everyone could fit in to the large meeting room, so they were turned away. Franzen said that in 2012 there were 109 Chamber members. At the end of 2013, there were 195 Chamber members. He said the 2013 annual meeting had 120 people attending. This year’s annual meeting had 242. Those members who made the cut were entertained by President Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Actors Joe Wiegand as Theodore Roosevelt and Randy Duncan as Abraham Lincoln traded barbs and quips while they spoke to the crowd.
One of the highlights of the evening was when Roosevelt honored the director of the Jobs Development Authority and Economic Development Commission, Gene Veeder. The Watford City area rancher is the Executive Director of the McKenzie County Job Development Authority and Tourism Bureau. He will laughingly tell you he doesn’t know how long he’s been in that position, “Oh, between 15 and 20 years.” Veeder made his first public appearance after a death-defying heart attack earlier this month. The room responded with a standing ovation when Roosevelt gave Veeder a Teddy Bear.
Both the University of Mary and Dickinson State announced plans for helping the expanding roster of businesses in the region. Business and management courses will be offered to employees of oil companies and others in the region.
A brief overview of what to expect in 2014 in Watford City included the expansion of the hospital, plans to maintain existing Main Street while expanding it to the north, and the desire for expanded airport service. Franzen told the crowd that for the first time, the Watford City Chamber of Commerce will have a physical home office in town. Space has been donated to the Chamber at the Watford City Square, a newly-developed area on the north edge of town.
Watford City’s Centennial celebration is June of this year and will coincide with North Dakota’s 125th birthday. Franzen told the group their volunteer help will be needed to help the city celebrate its milestone birthday.
The keynote speaker of the evening was Mark Haggerty and economist from Bozeman, Montana with the group Headwaters Economics. The organization studies trends in oil tax collections of oil-producing states and how that money is used – specifically how much is shared with oil impacted regions. Haggerty noted that North Dakota could do a better job of sharing oil tax collections with local oil-impacted governments. His assessment was met with general overall approval and agreement from the legislators and business leaders of Western North Dakota. Legislators at the meeting suggested Haggerty present his findings with legislative interim committees before the next legislative session.