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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.  




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