Bakken Providing Jobs, Economic Growth for Williston, ND

In a scene that is being played out in a number of areas across the country, residents of Williston, North Dakota are learning first-hand what a robust energy industry can do for a municipality. In fact, as economic development success stories go, few can top that of Williston, which has been going through a growth spurt in recent years “of historic proportions” amid prodigious oil and gas production in the nearby Bakken Shale formation, Caitlyn Beley, the Communications Director at the Williston Economic Development office, told Rigzone.

“There’s no turning back now,” Beley said. “This is the new American dream.”

Oil and gas production in the Bakken Shale is not just a part of the reason for Williston’s growth – it is the reason, Beley noted. In addition to the new development, Williston’s airport just added a direct flight from Houston, which is expected to further add to Williston’s growth.

Recently, local developers, investors and energy industry representatives met for a three-day summit to discuss the future of the town. A bit of that future is already here; groundbreaking on a new center, the North Star Development Center, to be constructed just north of Williston, was held in early September. North Star is being built on 550 acres, where retail, housing, a car dealership and green space are being built to accommodate the influx of people – and money – to the area. When completed, the development will add “another piece of the pie,” according to Beley.

While Williston is a particularly noteworthy example of how a municipality can prosper from nearby oil and gas activity, the state of North Dakota as a whole has also benefited from the Bakken. About 12.3 percent of the state’s total economic activity comes from the oil and gas industry, according to data by the American Petroleum Institute (API). Only Texas produces more oil than North Dakota.

Employment is another area where the energy industry has benefitted the state. There were 71,842 jobs from the oil and gas industry’s activity in the Bakken in 2012, API data showed, helping to send North Dakota’s unemployment rate down to 2.6 percent, the lowest in the nation. API projections are that by 2020, 114,240 people will work in the Bakken. 

The town of Williston could be nearly unrecognizable by then, Beley said. A new home improvement store – Menards – is being talked about, and Williston is working on numerous quality of life issues “to make the community a permanent residence for oil and gas workers, and not just a temporary place to make a quick buck.”

Also in the discussion stage are a new convention center – two sites are being considered – and plans for a new airport could be fast-tracked.

The convention center is sorely needed to compete for oil and gas conferences, which could attract thousands of energy industry visitors, Beley said.

“Bismark [North Dakota] gets a lot of attendees for the Petroleum Council events, and people here are used to having to drive six hours to attend. It would be nice to have people coming here to Williston.”

Another new project – Renaissance on Main – is also on the way to provide affordable housing and apartments for the new energy workers in town. Currently, rental rates in Williston are among the highest in the nation due to strong demand and inadequate supply, Beley said, adding that oil and gas activity in the Bakken has created more jobs than there are people to fill them.

“It’s been a struggle to bring families in to settle down with housing demand so high right now, and that’s not a bragging point. However, with the direct flight from Houston and all the new housing and other development planned, we’re even more optimistic now about the future of the community. Unemployment is well under the national average, and there are jobs available for everyone. It’s not just a boy’s club anymore,” Beley noted, adding that in June, 36 percent of job applicants were from women. “And many of those applicants were looking for oil and gas jobs.”

Oil and gas recently joined agriculture as the leading industry in the area, Beley said, adding that estimates by energy professionals are that there are enough hydrocarbon resources in the Bakken to keep the formation active “for another five generations,” thus making it likely that those in the industry stick around, particularly since oil and gas jobs in the state average $90,171 annually, compared with an average North Dakota salary of $48,740 for all industries, according to API figures.

All the hydrocarbon activity in the Bakken Shale cannot help but boost the economic fortunes of Williston, Beley said.

“Anyone wanting to get some great oil and gas experience is welcome. If you can’t be successful now in Williston, you’re doing something wrong.”


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