Ward County will need another 10,000 housing units to accommodate projected population growth, according to an economic analysis detailed at a meeting of a Vision West ND steering committee in Minot Wednesday.
Committee members, who represented Ward County, Minot, Burlington and Surrey, considered housing figures developed by North Dakota State University to possibly be low since they were based on oil development alone. The statistics didn't consider a refinery and potential potash development in the region or what might happen if new technology allows for mining more oil or mining oil from new areas.
The analysis provided a scenario in which 38,000 housing units would be needed but also offered a more optimistic scenario for about 38,500 units. The Ward County population of about 64,000 is projected to exceed 86,000 by 2036.
Neil Scharpe, left, listens as Ward County Commissioner Shelly Weppler, right, speaks at a meeting of a countywide steering committee in Minot Wednesday.
"To me, this does seem really conservative with what's being projected out there," said county engineer Dana Larsen. Larsen had just come from a meeting in Makoti, where there was discussion on a housing development. A refinery is to be built at Makoti.
Joel Feist, a committee member and Minot developer, said the forecast for temporary housing also could under-count the population if temporary workers decide to stay rather than leave. The NDSU analysis indicated a current need for about 4,000 temporary housing units, which could be hotel rooms, crew camps or other portable housing. The demand for temporary housing is expected to level off in about 10 years and gradually shrink and disappear by 2032.
Even if the projections for housing needs are on target, the question for the steering committee was whether Ward County is on pace to meet that demand.
Feist said out-of-state developers continue to look to North Dakota as a potential new market because of the sluggish national economy. There is no lack of developers, he said, but there is a lack of existing infrastructure to accommodate more development.
Larsen said infrastructure constraints are a problem for Burlington, Surrey and Minot, which all have large development projects in the works.
The committee made plans to get a handle on the developments that are planned to see whether the county is on track to meet the future housing demand or if steps need to be taken to encourage more development.
"Let's not just sit back and wait for the next development to come. Let's say, we need this many units by this period of time," said Neil Scharpe, who represents Ward County on the Vision West ND Consortium. Scharpe is with the Great Plains Center for Community Research and Service at Minot State University.
The consensus of the committee was that affordable or low-income housing development is not on track, and that creation of this type of housing could draw more residents to the region.
The committee discussed the county housing situation following a webinar with representatives from the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, Nebraska, on housing and workforce projections from the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources and NDSU.
Ward County can be expected to make a modest contribution to the state's oil activity in the future, based on study findings. The number of oil-related jobs in Ward County is expected to peak at about 225 between 2015 and 2023 before declining to about 160 jobs. About 11 percent of jobs in the Minot region are in the oil industry, compared to 27 percent in the Dickinson region and 57 percent in the Williston region.
Ward County's annual growth rate is projected to be about 2 percent through 2020, then drop to 0.8 percent. A growth rate from 1 to 3 percent is considered healthy, and a rate from 3 to 5 percent typically will strain resources. Counties in the heart of the Bakken Field are projected to continue growing at 8 percent a year for the next several years, according to the NDSU analysis.