Watford City has seen huge changes in the past several years as the oil industry drove the community to a record population estimated at more than 7,000. And now with oil prices plummeting from a high of $140 per barrel, to the mid-$30s, the community, which is in the epicenter of the Bakken oil development, is still forging ahead.
“I believe 2015 will be remembered for starting the construction of our new public buildings,” stated Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford. “The new High School, the Events Center, the Law Enforcement Center, and the Hospital.”
According to Sanford, the frantic pace associated with the growth of the oil industry slowed just enough in 2015, that the public infrastructure and housing construction had a chance to attempt to catch up from the rapid pace of the oil boom.
Some of the hurdles Watford City cleared in 2015, says Sanford, included working through how to pay for the new public infrastructure and public building projects, traffic becoming more manageable, and law enforcement, emergency services, and public employment having the chance to catch up.
“One of the hurdles we were able to overcome in 2015 was being able to work through how to pay for the new public infrastructure and public building projects with the Legislature, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, and the Bank of North Dakota, so that the local citizens were not bearing the brunt of the risk,” stated Sanford. “Traffic is becoming more manageable as new highways and bypasses were completed. And law enforcement, emergency services, and public employment also had to ramp up quickly over the last few years and now seem to have a chance to catch up and level off.”
Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Economic Development director, agrees with Sanford that Watford City is turning the corner when it comes to improving the quality of life for city residents.
“I believe solving some of the traffic congestion problems has added to the quality of life and business development,” said Veeder. “We are showing a solid commitment to our families and students with the development of recreational and educational projects. It appears were are on the brink of meeting the housing needs of many of our target groups as well.”
So what is in store for us in 2016? Sanford sees Watford City making more progress. He sees the completing of several infrastructure projects that were started in 2015. He sees residents settling here for the long haul. And he has positive hopes and visions for the future here.
“In 2016, I see completion of the public buildings and public infrastructure projects,” Sanford said. “With more retail projects filling in, I also see continued investment by the long-term energy players. I see it being quieter on the housing construction front until oil prices recover, and the settling into a longer-term focus.”
Sanford says he’s hopeful for the residents of our area. And there are many reasons we have to be hopeful.
“We seem to be positioned well to keep moving forward in times of lower or higher oil prices,” Sanford stated. “Our economy is based on agriculture and producing the oil and gas wells that have been drilled. Maybe the new public infrastructure and housing could lead to value-added agriculture or energy projects to further diversify our local economy.”
“I am optimistic about the accomplishments for this community for the next decade,” said Veeder. “I think we have set the stage for the long-term stability of the area. We continue to take a long-term vision for this community and I am confident we have laid the groundwork for solid growth with good financial strength.”
In order to position Watford City for the long-term, Sanford says the city is doing several things, including taking care of the historical population and historical economy of the area, providing a home for the increase in permanent residents resulting from the production of thousands of wells in our area, and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the increased economic activity.
“I have always felt proud that this community is viewed as a progressive, business-friendly part of our state,” stated Veeder. “I hear feedback from companies that they enjoy working with the city and county and envy the positive interactions with the state. I also admire the amount of local investment that has gone in to developing this community.”
So although the oil and gas market has slowed down a lot over the last year, Watford City is a community that has evolved, transformed, and progressed into what it is today. Watford City still has a bright future and a lot to offer to its residents in the upcoming year and years to come.