Alas, my time here is ending as a resident. Much sooner than I could have imagined. Two plus years ago, I took a shot on a challenge to run the Chamber of Commerce in the fastest growing city in the U.S. And likewise, the Chamber’s Board and the business community took a chance on me, a born and raised cheesehead. This NoDak Badger learned a few things and take with me lasting friendships and experiences. I try to explain to others “you don’t know Williston, until you’ve lived in Williston.” So as I pack my fly rods and guitar and move to Bismarck next week, here’s my last take as a Willistonian.
- I learned that North Dakota IS a political Grand Canyon of the Plains, and that East v West isn’t just a name for the NBA All-Star game. It’s hard to ignore that Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck get the vast majority of the state and nation’s attention, including federal program funding.It will be up to the leadership of the state AND of the western political subdivisions to continue to build a bridge across that canyon. The way it shapes up now, not even Evel Knievel could jump that thing.
- I learned that an economy that relies heavily on one commodity (ag, energy) is going to have to learn to ride the waves. The tsunami of people and activity that crashed on the shores of the Little Muddy a few years ago has subsided. Only the strongest remain stout and tall as the wave recedes back into the hills. And those that remain are even stronger still when the next wave comes (and it will).
- I learned that in a state of 730,000 people, one group or community or strong voice CAN affect the direction of policy and sentiment.
- I learned that some of what the national media portrays of Williston is true and self inflicted. Some of what has been said about the area is only to sell headlines and sensationalize. ABC’s Blood and Oil, the short-lived TV series is among the worst offenses in recent memory.If you want the picture to look different or the story to sound different, you must take control of the message.
I suppose this is also the space where I lay out the “what Williston needs” list. Rather than going there, because everyone thinks Williston needs something different, let’s use four key community qualitative metrics as a measuring stick. You be the judge on how Williston’s doing in each of these areas.
I’m referencing a presentation I heard in Sioux Falls last week from Mac Holladay, a community image guru and keynote speaker for the event. Mac says you need to identify four things for a community to be successfully competitive in today’s battle to attract and retain America’s best workforce talent. America’s got talent, but definitely not enough for every community. Read this section with the idea of attracting city administrator candidates to Williston (for instance).
A. Education & Workforce Sustainability. What sort of education and workforce to you want in the community? Do you understand the generational differences and embrace them when it comes to education and workforce needs? What innovative ways can the community help fill that workforce shortage? How much emphasis will be placed on those issues to compete with the Minots, the Bismarcks, Grand Forks’ and Fargos?
B. Place. The ‘place’ is inseparable from your workforce attractiveness. Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist said:
“Economic development today, more than ever before, is about talent management. Regions that are successful in economic development are creating and maintaining a community that is attractive for creative workers.”
There are three’qualitative’ community questions:
- Can people easily access the place using a variety of transportation options?
- Does the community make a good first impression? Do you feel safe? Is it free of litter? Does it ‘feel’ inviting?
- How many different types of activities are occurring? Do people use the community space, or does it sit empty? Are there choices of things to do?
C. Diversity. Embracing diversity to ensure economic growth and stability over the long term. Many studies point to the statistics that half of all children in America today, under the age of 5, are non-white. The term diversity also applies to religious, lifestyle, business, culture, etc, and not just skin color.
D. Regionalism. This concept is the direct opposite to ‘silo-ism’ or taking care of ourselves. Fewer resources mean either a cutthroat mentality, whereby only the large and political survive; or it means banding together for the longer, prosperous road ahead. Think beyond the city limits, and beyond the next budget cycle.
The potential for Williston to be the true ‘western star’ of North Dakota is real. The biggest challenge for the city is to proactively define what it will be; five, ten or twenty years from now, and not let the outside critics and media define the image.
Embracing change is difficult. Those companies and leaders who understand the need to adapt to changing economic conditions will survive. Those that fight change may win once in a while, but in the long run, will be left behind. In the end, it’s not about winning. It’s about doing what is right.
My parting thoughts are a simple and humble thank you. To the Chamber Board for their support the past two plus years and the trust they had in my guiding the Chamber ship through these wild waters. To the staff, without whom nothing would have been possible. To the community leadership for supporting the businesses in Williston as they improve the quality of life here for everyone and spur economic growth; both in and out of the oil and gas industry.
Finally, to the Williston community: Don’t lament the loss of another drilling rig. Embrace what you do have already – talented, caring people who when they work together, can accomplish great things.
Besides, I’m not really leaving. Just moving.