Posted 8/30/16 (Tue)
By Cecile Wehrman
Once upon a time, the business network between Williston and Crosby was stronger.
When the oil boom hit, a program called “Good Neighbors” went away along with the days of no traffic, little growth and outmigration.
“I bet two years ago we wouldn’t have had any volunteers who could break away from their jobs,” said Williston Mayor Howard Klug, because they were too overrun with their own businesses to take any time for nurturing relationships.
Restoring the program, under the new name of “Connecting Communities,” was the goal of a barbecue lunch served Tuesday last week at Crosby’s Swimming Pool park.
Williston Regional Economic Development Council (WREDC) staff and partners served up hamburgers, hot dogs and side dishes for all comers as Cherry Creek Radio interviewed local leaders to broadcast details about Crosby’s growth -- from building additions to new construction and a major street improvement project.
“We just looked at the new daycare facility,” said Shawn Wenko, executive director of Williston Economic Development.
A similar event was recently held in Watford City.
“The communities we choose are those we consider a vital part of Williston,” he said. “This is kind of a way of giving back to the community, as well.”
Educating people about the new things Williston has to offer post-boom, along with the fact the economy is far from withering, is also important. Williston has gone from “Rockin’ the Bakken” at the start of the oil boom in 2008 to a new mantra, one that declares “Williston is Open for Business.”
“Rents are coming down,” said Klug, there are more retail and restaurant options than ever, and traffic is much improved over the height of the boom.
“This is not a bust, it’s a slowdown, but that slowdown has helped us,” said Klug, giving the city time to improve infrastructure and expand services.
“We don’t have to stand in line anymore,” and the city has more to offer visitors and residents alike.
Williston has improved its downtown, built a new high school and is working on a new airport.
“We’re going to be a town of 50,000 or 60,000,” said Klug, based on the models of a moderate recovery in the oil patch.
The town’s population currently sits at an estimated 30,000.
But future growth, said Wenko, will not be entirely dependent on oil. His agency is working on a 10-year diversification plan that will attempt to encourage light manufacturing and warehousing that complements both ag and oil enterprises.
That the oil boom is responsible for bringing so many new businesses to Williston is something Wenko said local residents can also enjoy, never mind the story the national media has exaggerated from the beginning.
“We went from this is too quick, too fast, to this is a ghost town,” he said, and that characterization is far from accurate.
Among the partners spreading that message in Crosby was Fran Zerr, head of the Williston Job Service office, which serves Divide, Williams and McKenzie counties.
“We’ve got 1,000 jobs or better,” she said. “It’s amazing how much work there is available.”
Zerr said school enrollments across the region tell the tale.
“We are seeing that people who have worked here the last several years, they want to stay here,” whether it be in Crosby or Williston.
Folks like Williston MDU Manager Shane Homiston, on the job since April, was glad to become better acquainted with another community MDU serves.
“It’s very beneficial because it gives us an opportunity to reach out to some of these communities and meet people,” he said.
Crosby Area Chamber President Denise Johnson said the attention from Williston counterparts is appreciated.
“We’re obviously not going to be able to reciprocate, to go back there, but it is a nice program,” she said.
Williston visitors also used the event to spread the word about two major events. WREDC’s fifth annual Williston Economic Summit and Trade Show which started yesterday, Aug. 30; and on Sept. 7, Job Service is hosting a career fair in which 55 employers are seeking applicants for some of the many jobs that remain unfilled in the region.
Those interested in more information about the summit can visit www.willistondevelopment.com; for the career fair, search the jobsnd.com website with the posting number 444995 for a listing of jobs and employers to be represented at the event.