Anwers to questions about Minot's future are tied to both the promise and the uncertainty of the Bakken oil field.
Representatives of the City of Minot, Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau shared what they see happening in Minot during a roundtable discussion at the Magic City Energy EXPO Monday.
The EXPO continues through today in the Holiday Inn and North Dakota State Fair Center.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Representatives of King Oil Field Services chat with a visitor to their booth at the Magic City Energy Expo held in the State Fair Center Monday. The exhibition and the expo continue through today.
Jill Schramm/MDN • The first Magic City Energy Expo drew 73 indoor and outdoor exhibitors and pre-registered about 300 attendees. Organizers said Monday said they reached the maximum number of exhibits that the expo could handle. Pre-registrations were cut off early but additional registrants are expected through today, the last day of the two-day event.
Visitors attending the roundtable were curious about Minot's population and workforce training, assistance available to developers looking to build affordable housing and efforts to entice oil companies to establish headquarters in Minot.
Cindy Hemphill, Minot finance director, said the city is estimating a current population of 45,000 to 47,000. In five to 10 years, that number should, conservatively, be 60,000 to 65,000, she said.
"I think it's going to depend upon what happens with housing," said John MacMartin, president of the Chamber of Commerce, "and what happens with the continuation of what's happening in the Bakken."
The construction phase in the Bakken has brought more transitional and temporary housing, he said. When the industry gets to operation and maintenance of wells, those people will stay for the estimated 30-year life of the wells.
"They are going to be the ones that buy the houses and put down roots," MacMartin said. "When does that construction phase begin to shift into more of the operation and maintenance? That's what a lot of the housing developers are trying to figure out."
Panel participants cited the lead of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency in providing financial assistance for constructing both low- and moderate-income housing and housing that is affordable for working families making above-median income but not oil-field wages.
Hemphill said the city is focusing on building infrastructure and opening more property to development, such as the 13,000 acres that will become available with completion of a sewer trunk line.
"Hopefully, that will drive down the price of affordable homes for the workforce that we need to have here," she said.
Infrastructure is needed for industrial and commercial growth, too. Panelists noted that the recruitment of oil companies and retailers are entwined as attracting one sector helps lure the other.
"We are seeing other folks certainty not moving locations from the west to here," MacMartin said in addressing recruitment competition with Williston and other towns in the Bakken. "But as other opportunities arise to add a second service center or to do a major expansion, they are looking very seriously at Minot. We want to be in a position to have the utilities, to have the infrastructure in place so that if somebody wants to locate here, they can."
Wendy Howe, director of the Minot Convention & Visitors Bureau, said a loosening of hotel room availability is a sign that Minot is stabilizing in that industry.
At one time, she said, Minot had no vacancies and had difficulty getting a block of rooms to host a sporting event or convention. That has eased as an occupancy rate of 96 percent last summer has fallen to 86 percent. The rate remains above the national average, which has hovered in the 60s.
"I can tell you now that we do have availability on a regular basis," Howe said. "With the ones that are coming on and what we see under construction, we are probably getting to the point where we are feeling pretty good."
Eventually, the need for hotels for temporary housing will decrease so unless Minot builds a major convention center, it will be challenged to fill its hotel rooms, she added.
Hemphill said the city may look at improving or replacing Minot Municipal Auditorium for convention use after Erik Ramstad Middle School moves out of its temporary quarters in the facility in 2014.