The Roundup -

Bakken Conference & Expo to Feature Local Economic Development Updates


Shawn Wenko, Executive Director of Williston Economic Development, will discuss the construction of the new Williston Basin International Airport, and the decommissioning of Sloulin Field International Airport. Pictured above is the terminal at Sloulin Field International Airport.

Bakken region operators, suppliers, consultants, local officials and many others will convene in Watford City for the three-day Bakken Conference & Expo, beginning on July 16. Among the many exhibits and panels of speakers is "Boomtown 2.0: New Realities for Real Estate, Roads and Community Enhancement," offering an update on the economic status of the region.

Local officials Shawn Wenko, Executive Director of Williston Economic Development, and Daniel Stenberg, Economic Development Coordinator for McKenzie County, are on the panel of four speakers in the one and a half hour session.

Wenko's presentation includes an update on the current economic status of Williston, including how the city has weathered the slow-down, and the effect of the more recent increase in activity. "We'll talk about the birth rate rising, the increase in school enrollment, sales tax collection, and the infrastructure we've put in the ground to address the growth," Wenko explained.

The latter part of the presentation will discuss "the biggest change," according to Wenko-the construction of the new Williston Basin International Airport, and the decommissioning of Sloulin Field International Airport. The decommissioning of Sloulin Field will leave a property of about 850 acres- or roughly the size of New York City's Central Park- for the city to redevelop. "We've worked with a developer and have a lot of ideas. We're working closely with the Department of Transportation to look at highway access and road access to the property, and how it affects the current transportation grid," Wenko said. Though the actual development of the property cannot commence until the City has satisfied the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration, many options for the vast property have been discussed, all with the end goal of improving the quality of life for Williston residents.

In his presentation, "How Watford City and McKenzie County can meet the needs of the oil industry," Daniel Stenberg cites that Watford City and McKenzie County are in the "sweet spot" of oil development. "We have over 5000 wells within a 30-mile radius of Watford City. That makes a difference to a lot of companies who want to be where the wells are. We've seen a 270% population growth in Watford City, and 100% growth in McKenzie County since the oil boom started," Stenberg said.

Watford City and McKenzie County have made infrastructure improvements to keep up with this rapid growth, including working with the schools and oil industry professionals. "Workforce is our biggest need," Stenberg explained. "Our unemployment rate is 2%, so we can't meet the need for employers who have positions to fill without folks just switching jobs and leaving a different opening. We need to work on improving training opportunities as well as attracting more people to come to our community." Stenberg stresses that working with the school systems to provide training to students is integral to preparing students for the workforce, whether that be in the petroleum industry or anywhere else.

McKenzie County Economic Development Coordinator Daniel Stenberg speaking at the 2017 Bakken Conference in Bismarck.

Additional speakers in this session include Mike Elliott and Muriel Lippert. Elliot is the founder and managing principal for Energy Real Estate Solutions, or ERES. The company is a full-service commercial real estate firm, specializing in helping both energy companies and investors in the acquisition and management of properties in rural markets. The company maintains properties around the Bakken, and has an office in Williston. Elliott will be presenting "Riding the upswing: Minimizing risk and spotting opportunities in Bakken shale play real estate." Lippert is the Building Manager for the Renaissance Company, a real estate company focused on community revitalization. Lippert will speak on "Oil resurgence and downtown revitalization."

Though the Bakken Conference & Expo is specific to the oil industry, the conference offers a free BBQ reception on Monday night, from 5:00 to 6:30 CST, which is open to the public. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet with exhibitors, speakers and event organizers. A free dinner will be provided.

The Bakken Conference & Expo will be held July 16-18 at the Rough Rider Center in Watford City. Attendees can register for a single day or the whole conference, with free admission provided to employees of production and drilling companies. For additional information, visit


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