Watford City Economic Development Corporation
History of McKenzie County Economic Development
The Watford City Economic Development Corporation (EDC)
was formed in 1988 during a volatile time in Watford City’s history. The
decline of the local economy due to the uncertainty of agricultural commodity
prices and decrease in oil production left the area with a shrinking tax and
school base and a dwindling population.
Out of concern for the future of their community, area
residents and leaders got together to come up with strategies to expand and
cultivate the local economy. Out of these conversations the EDC was formed as a
private corporation funded by private business memberships with the mission of
promoting area economic expansion and diversification, recruiting new
businesses and finding ways to bring new residents to town.
In its first year the EDC had twenty members with Lester
Hagen serving as Chairman, Denton Zubke serving as First Vice President and
Doug Johnsrud serving as Second Vice President.
As the EDC was laying groundwork for their private organization,
they realized there was a need for a full time executive director to oversee
the recruitment of new businesses and manage the community economic development
activities. The EDC then approached the McKenzie County Board of Commissioners
to request a mill levy budget item to support funding for a director. This is
how the McKenzie County Job Development Authority (JDA) was formed. The JDA
board is appointed by the county commission and the mission is to promote county-wide
primary sector economic growth and diversification.
When it was first organized the JDA board had eleven
members, with Denton Zubke acting as chairman. In 1991 Pat Downs was hired as
the first executive director and then Paul Lucy was hired in 1993. In 1994 Gene
Veeder moved into the position and remains the executive director at the time
of this publication.
Throughout the years, economic development in McKenzie
County has seen the community through many changes. When the EDC and JDA were formed, one of the first missions
was to promote tourism in the county. As a result, together the two
organizations worked to develop and promote a trial between the North and South
Units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which is known today as the
renowned Maah Daah Hey Trail. The organizations also championed a tourist
information center, which eventually became the Long X Visitors Center and
proposed an all-seasons area, which is now known as the McKenzie County
Multi-Purpose Arena used today for hockey, rodeo and other community events.
During the organizations’ early years of operation, Watford
City was suffering from population decline, having gone from over 2,000
residents in 1980 to just over 1,400 in the year 2000.
Now, in 2014, just 26 years after the creation of the EDC and
JDA, Watford City’s population is estimated at 8,000 and growing, due to
explosive progress brought on by the exploration and production of the Bakken
oil formation. While early economic development efforts focused on population
and business expansion, today’s efforts are focused on infrastructure and
services, such as the expansion of the education, healthcare, transportation
and recreational systems to support rapid population growth and improve the
quality of life for residents.
The organizations’ recent accomplishments are Main Street
improvements, development of extensive county-wide water project, the expansion
of four-lane highways from Williston to Watford City and the expansion and
improvement of the technology infrastructure.
Watford City’s focus and achievements in its economic
development efforts has become an example for small towns and booming
communities across the state of North Dakota. The successes of the organization
are a manifestation and reflection of the independent and perseverant nature of
the people of Watford City. With a community rich in oil, agriculture, tourism
and entrepreneurial opportunities, McKenzie County’s economic development efforts
continue to work toward a future based on diverse economic and quality of life
opportunities that our residents, new and native, deserve.