Posted 9/28/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
“If you build it, they will come” has become the mantra for Mark Johnsrud, president of Power Fuels.
The key words for Johnsrud, of course, being “it” meaning housing and “they” meaning workers.
Like so many other area businesses who have not been able to hire or retain employees because of the shortage of housing in the Watford City area, Johnsrud has decided that it is time for him to take matters into its own hands and come up with a housing plan to meet the needs of his company.
And what a plan it is!
According to Johnsrud, Power Fuels has finalized plans that will include six 42-unit apartments, 54 patio homes, 40 twin homes, 110 single family homes, as well as five commercial buildings on land that the company has purchased to the west of the McKenzie County Courthouse.
“The goal is to have four of the apartment buildings done this year,” stated Johnsrud. “In addition, work has started on the construction of the patio homes.”
The first three apartment buildings, according to Johnsrud, will be used exclusively to provide housing for his employees.
“In order for us, as a company to take care of our customers’ needs in the future, we needed to be able to offer affordable, quality housing to our employees.”
And Johnsrud’s plans to build a 1,000-person community in Watford City has city officials excited.
“The northwest edge of Watford City is experiencing a radical facelift with the scope and speed of the development that is unmatched in this part of the Bakken epicenter,” states Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor. “One could argue that this development is unmatched anywhere in the Bakken play.”
Sanford credits the speed by which Johnsrud’s project is moving forward to the fact that it is being led by local, private investment.
“The impressive scope of the project is due to the success of the public-private partnership that has developed over the last year between the public entities, such as the McKenzie County Commission, the City of Watford City, the Roughrider Fund and the McKenzie County Job Development Authority (JDA), and the private entities, like Power Fuels and Meridian Contracting,” states Sanford.
“This is exactly what the community needs - quality permanent housing,” states Gene Veeder, executive director of the McKenzie County JDA. “We are in a position to attract private investment from North Dakota companies to get this development on a fast track. People who have been working here and living in temporary housing are ready to bring families. This development will have options for rental property and affordable twin homes, patio homes and single family homes for purchase. I think this is the critical next phase to assure we have housing options for people intending to make Watford City home for a long time.”
$12.3 million infrastructure grant opens land for development
According to Sanford, the city recognized that in order for the community to provide more housing opportunities within the city limits, the county commission, the city council and the JDA hired AE2s to develop a plan to address what the city would need in the way of new infrastructure improvements.
“Out of this study came an infrastructure plan that was presented to the Legislature which resulted in a $12.3 million grant to extend Watford City’s water and sewer services into the new expansion areas around the city,” stated Sanford. “The plan also identified the need for the city to enforce extraterritorial zoning one mile out of the city into the unzoned adjoining county area and the need to develop a land use plan for the one mile extraterritorial zoning area in anticipation of new areas being annexed into the city.
“The city has used the grant to begin sewer and water improvement and expansion projects into newly-annexed areas,” states Sanford. “And the city has used the extraterritorial zoning authority and the land use planning document to preserve the immediately adjoining county areas for the desired types of permanent tax-base building projects, such as the project currently under construction for Power Fuels by Meridian Contracting.”
Power Fuels has a history of providing employee housing
As one of the major trucking firms serving the oilfield in northwestern North Dakota, Power Fuels is no stranger to struggling with the need to provide housing for its employees.
According to Johnsrud, in order to hire and retain employees, in 2007 Power Fuels purchased a trailer court south of Watford City that had been unused for 25 years since the last oil boom and purchased new single-wide manufactured homes for their employees and families.
Providing housing, according to Johnsrud, was not only a key component when it came to recruiting new employees, but also retaining them.
“We could get the drivers and workers to come here,” stated Johnsrud. “But we couldn’t keep them because their wives and children lived somewhere else. By providing our employees with the opportunity to have quality, affordable housing we’re going to be able to bring an entire family to the community.”
And that, according to Johnsrud, is a win-win situation.
“We are offering our employees the ability to transition into home ownership in Watford City,” states Johnsrud. “They can start off by renting an affordable apartment and start saving. And once they have saved some money, they can afford to purchase a single family home.”
Development turns into a success story for Watford City
“This success story of cooperation allows all participants to win,” states Sanford. “The new residents of Watford City gain a nice, new, affordable, permanent home to bring their family to. And Power Fuels and the other companies taking part in the development gain a happy, stable employee.”
And while Power Fuels’ housing project is a big step toward ensuring their continued growth, Sanford also notes that the new housing project will also have tremendous positive impacts for the community.
“Not only will the city and the county gain a permanent tax base in the form of a mixture of new housing types and new office buildings,” states Sanford, “but the area’s retail, government, healthcare and service sectors will also gain much needed potential employees in the family members of the new energy employees who are now able to move into town.”
“We are extremely pleased that Power Fuels has shown faith in this community and this business environment to invest so heavily in permanent affordable housing and permanent office buildings,” states Sanford. “We hope that with Power Fuels’ lead this will signal the beginning of the end for the high dollar extended stay man-camps and rental price gouging. We hope that this project’s success will spur more permanent affordable housing construction and that the housing supply can soon come back in line with demand.”