AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
As we say good-bye to 2017, it appears that the economic rebound that we saw in the past year has a very good chance of continuing into 2018. And that is very good news for McKenzie County, Watford City and the state of North Dakota.
Driven by low oil prices in 2016, activity in the oil patch took a hit which affected the job industry in virtually every segment of our economy and taxable sales plummeted from record highs as jobs were lost. 2016 was definitely a year when western North Dakota struggled.
But a return to more acceptable oil prices throughout 2017, as well as the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, provided the incentives that the oil industry needed to increase their drilling and well completions. That increase in oil activity quickly made its way into the local activity as companies began rehiring and people started spending more money. The net result was that while our economy did not hit the highs that were seen in 2014 and 2015, this past year was proof positive that the oil industry has adjusted to the current pricing and has found a way to be profitable.
And having a stable oil industry that provides long-term employment in McKenzie County is going to be the catalyst that will continue to drive the growth of Watford City and the county into the future.
After the hit of 2016, it would be safe to call 2017 a transition year for the county and Watford City. While new building permits slowed to a crawl, new families and new businesses still decided that this was a good place to call home and to do business.
That modest growth, in times of uncertainty, was definitely good news. It showed that McKenzie County, which continues to be the most productive area of the Bakken oil field, has a very bright future and will continue to see an increase in both population and new business development in the years to come.
What 2018 will bring to this part of western North Dakota is yet to be seen. But city, county and school officials are expecting to see continued growth as new businesses and more families are expected to follow the increase in oil activity.
Today, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars improving our roadways and building necessary infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, a new law enforcement center, the Rough Rider Center, the new Watford City High School and a new healthcare facility to name just a few, Watford City and McKenzie County are finally in the position to become the crown jewel of western North Dakota.