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Watford City in the running for $500,000 grant

Posted 10/09/13 (Wed)

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

“Rural communities are worth saving,” stated an application submitted by the Watford City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). This is not only the belief and the mantra that keeps them going in these booming times, it is the reasoning behind which they have chosen to compete against nearly 300 other applicants for the Bush Prize for Community Innovation.
According to Jessie Veeder, she, Kristin Bolken and Katie Walters, collaborated on the Bush Prize application. Though they felt that a variety of different organizations within McKenzie County were qualified to apply for the Bush Prize, they chose to apply as the Watford City EDC. Because, should the EDC win, the prize money will be able to benefit the Watford City community, as well as various organizations.
The Bush Prize for Community Innovation states that it is looking for a culture of innovation, a track record of innovative solutions and a commitment to community-powered problem-solving. And according to Veeder, that is Watford City.
“What historically stands out for our community is that we are unique,” states Veeder. “We are a community of people that work to solve problems on a local level. We are group that, from the beginning, has dug in alongside our neighbors to make things happen on our own. And we continue to do that in the face of this tremendous growth.”
Veeder, Bolken and Walters argued that what makes Watford City stand out, and the EDC worth considering, is not that it is a boomtown. It is not the billions of barrels of yet-to-be-recovered oil, or the fact that people from around the nation have been flocking to its city limits to start a business or simply start over.
They argue that what makes Watford City great is what has always made Watford City great - that this is a community of people that saw a vision and strove toward a goal long before the oil boom even started.
“It is part of our DNA,” states Veeder. “We see it not as a role of one person or an accomplishment of one person, but this is something we have all done. And we are proud of what we have done.”
“This is neighbors sitting around the table drinking coffee and coming up with community solutions,” states Bolken. “And the neighbors are bankers, cowboys, business owners and oilfield workers. And we are constantly coming up with solutions.”
In the Bush Foundation application, Veeder, Walters and Bolken outlined the city’s renovation of its Main Street district during the time in which the city was declining in population. They talked about how even before the boom, the EDC and city leaders made the dwindling city an appealing place for people to live and settle and do business. And how, in just five years, the town has become a place of tremendous growth, with estimates of anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people who now call Watford City their home.
According to the Bush Foundation, nearly 300 organizations from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native Nations in these three geographic regions submitted an application for the Bush Prize. Of the nearly 300 applicants, the Watford City EDC was one of 30 recently selected to move on to the next round.
“This is pretty huge for us,” states Bolken. “We have not won anything yet. But the fact that a member of the Bush Foundation looked at our application and chose to come for a visit against the hundreds of other applicants says a lot about us.”
As part of being selected for the next round of applicants, a member of the Bush Foundation visited Watford City on Tuesday, Oct. 8. It is unknown when the EDC will find out if it has made it to the next round of applicants.
Should the EDC be selected to win the Bush Prize, the award could total as much as $500,000.