No Challenge Too Great

Minot, North Dakota

Located in the north center of North Dakota, Minot is nicknamed “the Magic City” for a reason. In 1886, while building steam railroads throughout the northern part of the country, the Great Northern Railway stopped in its tracks upon reaching the Gassman Coulee. A long trestle needed to be built in order to cross the valley, and harsh winter conditions made further progression difficult. In any case, the site was ideal for a settlement.

“I think it was only natural that the railroad came through here. The valley provided easy encampment and the town… sprang up magically because it was such a beautiful, Eden-like place,” says Mayor Barney. The Souris River flowed nearby, providing water for the trains, and the terrain allowed the workers to settle down for the winter. Virtually overnight (some might say magically), a tent town was created that would later become the city of Minot – the Magic City.

Supplying a Nation

In recent years, North Dakota has experienced a tremendous industrial and economic boom. A sizable part of this is due to the large-scale oil production in the nearby Bakken Oil Fields. The oil rush has forced many of the state’s cities and towns to adapt rapidly to the rise in population and corresponding rise in needs. Minot’s geographic location has made it an important center of distribution and servicing, and several projects have been launched in order to provide a prosperous environment for residents and industries alike.

The Port of North Dakota Expansion is one such project. Last July, Minot’s MAGIC (Minot Area Growth through Investment and Cooperation) Fund invested $ 4.3 million to support the expansion and development of over 3,200 acres of land north of the current site. The North Dakota Port Services is the state’s first intermodal transportation facility and the largest transportation hub in the Bakken oil fields. Catering mainly to companies in the agricultural and energy industries, it provides tailored services such as containers specially designed for value-added agriculture products and equipment to transport petroleum derived products.

The facility provides services to and from all areas within a 250 mile radius which encompasses several states and Canadian provinces. It is serviced by BNSF’s (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Class 1 railroad system and a four lane highway, allowing domestic and international shipping. A second Class 1 rail line, operated by Canadian Pacific, crosses Minot – an undeniable advantage, considering there are only eight Class 1 railroads in the United States.

Minot’s geographic position in the center of the country is another key element of its success as a distribution center: “We have easy access to the markets on the West Coast, but also on the Great Lakes that ultimately go out to the Atlantic Ocean,” explains Mayor Barney.

The North Dakota boom has prompted several other large-scale projects in Minot, and the city has had to adapt extremely rapidly to accommodate the needs of the expanding industries. Over twenty-nine projects currently underway in Minot are of least one hundred acres in scope or the result of a $100 million investment. Many of the projects, such as the Great Plains Energy Park, are related to the oil and gas industries.

Specifically designed to welcome companies that service the Bakken and Three Forks formations, Minot’s first energy park won an award from the International Economic Development Council in 2012. The Minot Area Development Corporation (MADC) “bought the land, put in the infrastructure and made it very agreeable for these businesses to move out there,” says Mayor Barney. “[It] has been helpful as we expand, because there’s a good area for them to settle in, and there’s a synergy that exists between the oil companies that are out there.”

Because of the industry’s ever-growing needs, the MADC has invested in the construction of a second park which is modeled on the first one. The Great Plains Energy Park 2 offers over two hundred acres of land, complete with city services and easy access to the highway and rail lines.

Still, despite the tremendous industrial growth and new economic developments, the community remains humble and true to its roots. While very grateful for the opportunities they have been presented with, the people of Minot are prudent and intend on planning ahead to ensure their city remains prosper after the boom.

“As city leaders… we’re not taking [the oil boom] for granted, but… we’re looking at diversifying our economy so that we’re not completely energy dependent,” explains the mayor. “Before the boom we were an “ag” state, and after boom we will be an “ag” state. [Agriculture] is probably the heart of our economy, and it certainly is the soul of North Dakota.”

Minot and its surrounding communities produce a variety of agricultural commodities, ranging from durum wheat to lentils and soybeans, most of which get processed into flours. USDA statistics for 2011 show that North Dakota is the number one producer of at least nine different agricultural commodities in the United States. And of course, Minot’s location allows products to be easily shipped anywhere in the country.

“Minot being strategically located halfway between Chicago and Seattle, we can move our “ag” products in both directions,” points out Mr. Fisher. “We see [ourselves] as a very strategic location to help feed the world’s people.”

The city’s Agricultural Park has attracted businesses from all around the world thanks to its wide range of services and particular focus on value-added agriculture (which includes cleaning, processing and packaging the products before they are shipped).

Rebuilding a City

“[Minot is a] city with traditional Midwest values,” explains Mayor Barney. “We’re famous with businesses that come into our community because of the work ethics that people have in North Dakota, and certainly in Minot.” Indeed, both city officials and residents have had to work tirelessly to rebuild their city since the Souris River overflowed in June 2011, forcing at least 12,000 residents had to evacuate their homes. The record-breaking flood is estimated to have caused over $ 1.4 billion in damages. Minot has been faced with a tremendous challenge ever since: rebuilding a city while simultaneously adapting to an industrial boom.

Grants from the CDBG-DR (Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery) federal program have been used to repair damages caused by the flood and improve the existing infrastructure. Additionally, Minot’s downtown area is in the early stages of a makeover. A company named Cypress Development has launched an extensive plan to create an environment better suited to the city’s growing population. Dubbed “Imagine Minot”, the $ 140 million project aims to revitalize the downtown area by creating a “live, work, play” environment. Funding for the project is both private and public; the city’s MAGIC fund has recently been used to finance certain infrastructures to accommodate downtown residents and shoppers.

The Minot Air Force Base has also played a major role in rebuilding the city. The Army Corps of Engineers helped clear the debris after the flood, and is partnering with the city to develop an improved flood protection plan. The AFB has been an integral part of Minot’s community since the base was opened in 1957. The spouses of military personnel constitute an important source of workforce in the region, and the base is the number one employer in the city. The relationship between Minot and the AFB is close: “We have a wonderful Air Force base,” says Mr. Fisher. “When they retire, many people choose to stay and live here. They like the quality of life… and we have a strong workforce additive from that long, rich tradition [with the AFB].”

Minot’s expanding population has also prompted growth in the healthcare infrastructure. Trinity Health is the primary healthcare facility for all of northwest North Dakota. It caters not only to the needs of the residents but also the workers of the nearby oil fields. Trinity Hospital made the list of the top fifty cardiovascular hospitals in the U.S. in 2013, and offers a full range of services including a Level 2 trauma center and an emergency helicopter service. Faced with increasing needs, the health center is planning to expand and set up a new campus in southwest Minot. In the northwest part of the city, the Saint Alexius Medical Clinic is also planning to expand, although on a smaller scale.

A Jewel on the Prairie

Mayor Barney’s attachment to Minot and its residents is palpable when he speaks of the city. “I think of it as a jewel on the Prairie…We’re a little bit far from a lot of different places, but when you get here, boy do you feel like you’ve come home,” he says. “I think of the quality of the school system,” adds Ms. Hoffart. “We’ve got a good quality of life.” The city is home to several daycares and schools, and its very own Minot State University. Counting around 4,000 students, the university offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in over sixty fields. The campus also houses the Minot Symphony Orchestra, the only symphony between Minneapolis and Washington.

Furthermore, the Minot area is rich with activities and entertainment. North Dakota is renowned for bird watching and people from across the country flock to Minot to catch a glimpse of some of the rarest species. Fishing and hunting are equally popular with tourists, who enjoy the peaceful scenery of the region. Minotians are avid golfers, and the state boasts the highest number of golf courses per capita, with five in Minot alone. The city’s art scene is flourishing, and events such as Arts in the Park are hosted throughout the summer. In the fall, tens of thousands of people visit Minot to attend Norsk Høstfest, the largest Scandinavian festival in North America. The city also holds the annual North Dakota State Fair, a week-long event that attracts some of the biggest names in the music and entertainment industry.

Maintaining the balance

Minot faces the unique challenge of adapting to an exceptional industrial boom while dealing with the aftermath of a catastrophic flood, but the true challenge, in years to come, will be to develop roots that will withstand the end of the boom. Luckily, city officials are up to the task.

“The city is responding with people, resources, and infrastructure to support [the boom], but we’re doing it prudently, understanding that the opposite of a boom is a bust,” explains Mayor Barney. The hard-working Minot community ensures that the city remains an ideal environment for both residents and businesses, no matter the circumstances. As Mr. Fisher summarizes it, Minot is “a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family.”

September 25, 2017, 4:35 PM EDT

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