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Booming economy provides different twist for JDA director

Posted 9/15/10 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

Economic development is an important aspect for any growing town. But what happens to an economic development coordinator when a town is booming with economic development, like Watford City is right now.
For Gene Veeder, executive director of the McKenzie County Job Development Authority (JDA), although the recent oil boom has made his job much slower, the booming economy of western North Dakota has him busier than he’s ever been.
“There aren’t a lot of people who have been in an economic development position during a low and high point,” says Veeder. “I still see the same problems. It’s just busier and tougher to get through the issues now.”
When Veeder began working with the JDA 16 years ago, his job was to promote Watford City to businesses and people with the goal of creating jobs in the area and bringing new people to town. A lot has happened during those 16 years, especially during the past two years, to change Veeder’s focus.
“I used to be a promoter,” says Veeder. “Now things are so good in this area that there is no need to promote the community. Today I would say that my job is more administrative. I do a lot of planning and working with new businesses that have chosen to make Watford City their home.”
Prior to the oil boom in western North Dakota, the JDA was willing to do just about anything to attract businesses here, even if it was only for two or three jobs.
“We were willing to mix it up however the business wanted,” added Veeder. “We had empty buildings on Main Street and people searching for jobs, so we were willing to help out financially to help get people started. And now, there are no empty buildings on Main Street and the businesses coming to town don’t need any incentive to choose Watford City.”
Of course, with change there is always a down side, and Veeder feels that the down side to Watford City’s newfound popularity could hurt the small business owner.
“The hard part about all of this is that we could end up losing some of the small businesses,” comments Veeder. “Those are the businesses that get started because a community is willing to offer incentives. With $70 oil and an influx of businesses, I don’t think we will be seeing too many small businesses popping up.”
Even though people want to invest in Watford City right now, Veeder is still working to keep this community a place that people want to make home.
“I’ve learned a lot from this job, especially when I first started and oil dropped down to $8 a barrel,” adds Veeder. “That is when production all but shut down, causing a lot of good companies to shut down. And even though their jobs went away, there were people who still wanted to stay here. Some of those people came to me for help starting a new business. Today those people are holders of some of the area’s largest and most knowledgeable companies, and they truly deserve every penny they’ve made.”
Although experts speculate that this oil boom will be around for a long time, Veeder is hopeful that when the price goes down, some of the area’s newest residents and businesses will decide that this is the right place for them and choose to stay in Watford City. Until then, he will continue to help out in whatever way he is needed.