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Hal Gershman and Kaus Thiessen: 'Bakken boom' powers exciting growth in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS -- In 2012, our city welcomed the Grand Forks expansion of Steffes Corp., a long-time Dickinson, N.D.-based manufacturer of residential off-peak, oil field and renewable energy products.

Hal Gershman

GRAND FORKS -- In 2012, our city welcomed the Grand Forks expansion of Steffes Corp., a long-time Dickinson, N.D.-based manufacturer of residential off-peak, oil field and renewable energy products.

Soon after, Grafton, N.D., welcomed Diverse Energy Systems, a company with rapid expansion plans for their area.

These investments into our region revealed that the boom of the Williston Basin is unique opportunity to further grow the economy of northeast North Dakota.

To better identify and grow our opportunities in the energy industry, the "Access the Bakken" campaign was launched. It's a collaborative initiative of Grand Forks, Grand Forks County, Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., The Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau and more than a dozen private businesses.

Together with leaders in western North Dakota, we identified opportunities by which the Grand Forks area can provide goods and services to the Bakken, grow and attract businesses here and alleviate some of the challenges being experienced by the western side of the state.


We found that by basing particular services and manufacturing in Grand Forks, pressure may be relieved on the stressed infrastructure of our western communities while businesses gain an expanded workforce in the area and access to our area's higher education schools and training programs at UND and Northland Community and Technical College.

As a result, Grand Forks is working collaboratively with peer communities such as Williston, N.D., as well as businesses in the Bakken to support growth in North Dakota. Through this process, we have seen the expansion and growth of companies headquartered in Grand Forks because of the economic impact of oil-related activities in the Bakken.

We believe there are at least 110 Grand Forks-region businesses currently doing business in the Bakken. Many of them are longtime partners such as architects, engineers and contractors, who have continued to work together in western North Dakota.

So too, many businesses report that most of their revenue is coming from the Bakken. For example, one company noted that it now can attribute 80 percent of its business to the Bakken when before the nation's economic woes, Minnesota markets provided 60 percent of the business.

Additionally, we have companies opening offices in the region to manage administrative and professional service functions supporting operations in the Bakken.

The Bakken affects local operations in many ways. For instance, the region's flight service providers have experienced increased activity tied to increased business activity in the Bakken. Anecdotally, we even hear of workers in western North Dakota choosing to buy homes and locate their families in Grand Forks in order to take advantage of the quality of life and great schools offered by our region.

Additionally, strategic assets such as UND's petroleum engineering program, the Energy and Environmental Research Center and quick access west on U.S. Highway 2 significantly support the expansion of Grand Forks-based companies in the Bakken.

Thanks in large part to efforts of the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, our city later will welcome the annual meeting of the North Dakota Petroleum Council in September, hosting the major oil producers and service providers as well as the state's government and small business leaders involved in our state's energy industry.


Many of the events will be open to the public, and we encourage everyone to come out to meet and learn more about the Grand Forks businesses benefiting from the Bakken.

Our work as a team to build Grand Forks as a place to build a business with access to the Bakken is only beginning. The Bakken presents 40 years or more of opportunity for careers and businesses across our entire state.

Gershman is president of the Grand Forks City Council. Thiessen is president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.

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