Posted 12/29/10 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
As we count down the last few remaining days of 2010, I’m struggling with finding the right adjective that aptly describes this past year and what we have all seen in the way of economic activity.
Wow, is the first word that comes to my mind. But other words such as incredible, mind-boggling and unbelievable, as well as frustrating, painful, and chaotic, would also describe this past year. And depending on your perspective, you will no doubt have your own adjectives to describe 2010.
Whether or not you liked everything that was happening in and around McKenzie County this past year, everyone will agree on one thing - it was an amazing year.
From the economic standpoint, 2010 will go down as a truly incredible, mind-boggling and unbelievable year as the development of the Bakken and Three Forks Sanish formations, with their huge oil and natural gas reserves, brought with it an economic boom unlike anything we have witnessed in over three decades.
We have seen our population skyrocket to numbers that only a few years ago would have seemed unimaginable, the county’s taxable sales and purchases growing at over 30 percent a year, and our schools scrambling to find classrooms to fit all of the new students moving into the area. We’ve seen businesses, restaurants and gas stations scrambling to find additional help to extend their hours of business to handle the increased demand as new customers flood into their stores. We’ve had the opportunity to welcome new businesses with their new employees to our communities. And we’ve seen an explosion in the need for housing of all kinds.
But along with the good, we’ve all also struggled to adapt to what often seems like an overnight development. It’s been a painful, frustrating and downright chaotic process.
We’ve learned a whole lot about man camps. And while everyone knows that this type of temporary housing is needed, no one wants one as a neighbor. We’ve learned that building and maintaining good roads to handle traffic patterns that now rival any of the interstate highways in North Dakota takes millions of dollars and isn’t going to happen overnight. We are suddenly acutely aware that planning for growth isn’t something that happens quickly and that uncontrolled growth is going to occur without planning. And we’ve learned that all levels of government service (from law enforcement, fire and ambulance service, and social services programs to garbage collection and snow removal) that may have been adequate for our population two years ago are being taxed to the breaking point today.
For the most past, McKenzie County and cities like Watford City, Alexander and Arnegard seem to be managing the challenges brought on by all of the issues associated with the energy development better than some of the other communities in oil country. Part of our success lies with our past experience with energy development. But most of our success in dealing with many of these issues is that we have county commissioners and city council members who are very progressive and recognize that it is far better to be proactive rather reactive when it comes to problem solving.
So as 2010 wraps up and 2011 arrives, one thing is certain. As amazing as this past year was, with oil and gas experts saying that 2011 will be an even bigger year than was 2010, there will be more new challenges and new opportunities ahead of us.