Minot AFB Community
In Ward County
Since about 2000, Ward County and its county seat, Minot, have been the economic envy of the nation, thanks to technology that for the first time allowed oil companies to tap the phenomenal energy reserves layered like strudel across the Bakken shale formations.
These oil and gas deposits lie under some 200,000 square miles of prairie unrolling across Montana and North Dakota and north into Canada’s Saskatchewan and Manitoba provinces. About 15 years ago, oilfield workers discovered they could combine drilling with pumping high-pressure fluids into Bakken shale (hydraulic fracturing, or fracking) to force trapped oil and gas to the surface, and prices at that time made it fabulously worth their while. Estimates of the slippery reserves are all over the place, from 2.1 billion to 24 billion barrels, but what isn’t arguable is that by the end of 2010, the Bakken was producing so much oil — 458,000 barrels per day — that there wasn’t enough pipeline capacity to carry it.
Wages were high, workers nationwide stampeded to the Bakken in a latter-day black gold rush, and North Dakota prospered in its sudden windfall, though the state and its communities also struggled with the housing needs and cultural challenges that piggybacked on the boom.
As the region’s largest city, and a shopping and transportation hub on the Bakken’s hemline, Minot has wrestled with the industry’s riches and growing pains alike. The oil price collapse from oversupply, starting in 2014, has presented the area with a new difficulty: how to move wisely from heady boom to possible bust. In June 2008, the high point, benchmark West Texas Intermediate Crude was $133.38 per barrel. By January 2014, the price had fallen to $95, by January 2015 to $47.60 and by January 2016 to $26.99, with no bottom in sight. That $26.99 was $13.01 below the $40 break-even price-point per barrel estimated by the North Dakota Department of Natural Resources, but what appears to be a slow price recovery now seems to be underway, with a rise to $52.36 per barrel in January 2017 and hopes for further increases.
Bakken producers are shutting down wells and workers are leaving, but though a change from the immediate past, this is far from a calamity for either the county or its communities. Minot’s strength is its historic adaptability; it never has been a one-product economy. True, oil and gas led the way from 1998 to 2014, but nonmetal mining (products such as gravel, sand and stone), agriculture, environmental services and coal mining also are strong cluster industries, according to the 2013 U.S. Cluster Mapping Project. This study was led by the Harvard Business School Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness and funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration. That same study showed 10,123 Minot workers employed in oil and gas production and transportation, but 5,436 in distribution and electronic commerce, 2,949 in hospitality and tourism, 2,149 in business services, 1,636 in transportation and logistics, 920 in food processing and manufacturing, 831 in construction products and services, 672 in finance, 470 in information technology and analytics, and 395 in insurance.
In November 2016, North Dakota’s unemployment rate was 2.9 percent, with a 3.2 percent rate in Ward County. The state boasts the third-lowest unemployment rate in the nation, second only to South Dakota and New Hampshire, and remains solidly below the national unemployment rate of 4.6 percent for November 2016. Minot Air Force Base also has been a rock-solid contributor to economic stability. In fiscal 2015, base figures show it contributed about $597 million to the area.
Ward County entrepreneurs and businesses can get help from several sources:
Entrepreneur Centers of North Dakota
657 Second Ave. N, Room 360
Fargo, ND 58012 701-239-5131
Institute for Business and Industry Development
NDSU Dept. 7000
311 Morrill Hall/P.O. Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-8050 701-231-8944
Job Service North Dakota
3416 N. Broadway
Minot, ND 58703 701-857-7500
Minot Area Chamber of Commerce
1020 20th Ave. SW
Minot, ND 58701 701-852-6000
Minot Area Development Corp.
1020 20th Ave. SW
Minot, ND 58701 701-852-1075
MiSU Severson Entrepreneurship Academy
500 University Ave. W
Minot, ND 58707 701-858-3019
North Dakota Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
Minot Regional Center
1925 S. Broadway, Suite 2
Minot, ND 58703 701-857-8211
Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)
1925 S. Broadway, Suite 2
Minot, ND 58701 701-852-6883
Souris Basin Planning Council
1905 Second St. SE
Minot, ND 58701 701-839-6641
The median age in Ward County is 31.1, meaning the workforce skews younger. Median household income in Ward County is $61,393, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. State income tax rates range from 1.22 percent to 3.22 percent over five income brackets, and the sales tax in Minot is 7.5 percent.
Rail and Transit Access
An 1886 “Magic City” that mushroomed at the site of a winter stop during Great Northern Railway construction, Minot today remains a rail center for freight headed northwest or southeast, mostly BNSF freight trains laden with farm crops such as wheat, barley, canola and flax but also oil from the Bakken formation to the west and coal from North Dakota’s rich deposits. Amtrak’s Empire Builder carries passengers through Minot twice each day, once westbound in the morning, headed from Chicago to Seattle or Portland, Oregon, and again eastbound in late evening, reversing the journey en route to Chicago.
The Port of North Dakota is the largest transportation hub between Seattle and Chicago to be served by the BNSF Railway and is being expanded with 6 square miles of development, including 45 miles of new track, rail-served property and indoor storage, to transport crops, crude oil, condensate, fracking sand and additional cargoes more safely and efficiently. In addition, a second energy park, Great Plains Energy Park 2, is joining Great Plains Energy Park 1 to support oil businesses working the Bakken shale formation.
North Dakota has almost 500 trucking companies, many profiting from the frenetic activity associated with the oil fracking in the state’s northwest quarter, and hiring for drivers has been brisk over the past decade.
U.S. Highway 83 runs north/south through Minot, from Westhope, North Dakota, a whisker away from the Canadian border, to Brownsville, Texas, 1,885 miles to the south, across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Mexico. In Minot, a new Northeast Highway 83 bypass circles away from city traffic to go directly to east Minot’s industrial corridor.
East/west U.S. Highway 2 links St. Ignace to the east, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with Everett, Washington, on the Pacific Coast, 2,099 miles to the west.
U.S. Highway 52 crosses Minot diagonally, southeast to northwest, traveling 2,072 miles from Charleston, South Carolina, to Portal, North Dakota, on the Canadian line.
Passengers can easily hop a bus in Minot to reach other destinations in North Dakota, or across the nation. Both Greyhound Lines and Jefferson Lines stop at the Minot Bus Depot.
Early settlers took one look at Ward County’s rich prairie soil and thought “crops” or “cattle” or both, and agriculture remains one of the economic underpinnings of the region, but coal also has been a mainstay. In 1883, the founders of Burlington, in Ward County, noticed outcroppings of a superior coal — hard, black, long-burning and with little contamination — and thus began the region’s coal mining industry that continues to this day.
The big news in recent years has, of course, been oil and gas output from Bakken shale that lies beneath North Dakota’s Williams, McKenzie, Dunn, Mountrail and a bit of Ward counties. In April 2014, the Associated Press reported that the Bakken had just produced its billionth barrel of oil. Since then, global oversupply and the consequent price collapse have dampened activity, but petroleum engineers agree that billions of barrels remain untapped, awaiting renewed demand.
Minot Air Force Base
North Dakota’s Labor Market Information Center reports that 39 percent of all jobs in Ward County are in government — 14,197 public-sector employees to 35,974 total jobs, with Minot Air Force Base having the majority of them: more than 12,100. Minot AFB had an economic impact of $597 million on the area’s economy in fiscal 2015, the base said. A partial tally includes the annual base payroll ($368 million), construction ($93.4 million) and value of jobs created indirectly ($135.7 million).
For more information, go to www.minot.af.mil.