Dickinson’s little world hinges on the big picture

A look at the neighboring Halliburton and Baker Hughes campuses in north Dickinson.

Last week brought word of numerous brand-name businesses planning to open in Dickinson.

Franchisees of Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurants are making plans to come here — though they aren’t sure where or when — and Five Diamond properties says Petco, JoAnn Fabrics and Dollar Tree are among the retailers planning to lease space in its new development planned for west Dickinson. The Roers West Ridge development has Menards and hotels that are sure to draw other big-box stores. Who knows? Maybe someone will even bring in Target for those of you who can’t stand Walmart.

I say this all the time because I believe it will be true: At the rate we’re going, there is going to be an entirely new part of Dickinson off Interstate 94’s Exit 59 in a couple of years.

While some of these businesses may not be the biggest names in commerce, it is still something few envisioned for the city merely five years ago. And, as we all know, life has changed quite rapidly in five years.

The population estimate for Dickinson is now anywhere from 27,000 to 32,000 — depending on whether you’re talking to a city official or a sanitation worker — and it seems there is a new development on every corner, be it retail, housing or a combination of both. Heck, there are two new commercial developments in my neighborhood, something I never thought I would see when I moved there only two years ago.

Of course, none of this would be happening without the oil industry. While it is the cause of some despair among longtime western North Dakota citizens, there is no arguing that oil is reshaping our area and way of life.

However, in the past month, international events have made it starkly clear that what happens halfway across the world now has the ability to greatly affect daily life in our small corner of it.

Whether you’re talking about Russia, Syria, Iran or the Middle East as a whole, western North Dakotans — especially those impacted by oil — should be paying close attention to the international chess game and how it is being played.

Why? Because the oil that comes out of the ground in North Dakota does not set the price for the world. It is merely a part of the big economic picture. We should always think to the boom and bust of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s for an example of this.

When the great oil price collapse of the early ‘80s happened, oil production in North Dakota was a fraction of what it had been just years earlier. It was simply not as affordable to drill here as it was in other places and the companies pulled out.

Could that happen again? Who knows. The point has been driven home that hydraulic fracturing will continue to help oil be pumped out from under our feet for as long as high crude prices make it feasible for the large energy corporations here to do so.

Though I find it hard to believe some of the major corporations which have invested millions of dollars in western North Dakota in recent years would simply pull up stakes over a drop in oil prices, oil on the international market is about as unpredictable as any commodity gets. All it takes is the wrong skirmish or storm and prices shoot up or fall down.

Think about this for a moment: If you would have told 16-year-old me, who was paying 99 cents for a gallon of gas, that by the time he was 30, he would be happy to see gas prices at $3.49 a gallon, he probably would have laughed at you. But that’s the world we live in now.

In 1981, Dickinson carried a debt of $28 million because while the city was building to catch up to its expanding population — about 22,000 at the time — the oil boom busted around it. It’s the reason why there are people here who remain apprehensive about the city bursting at its seams and are content to let outside, private investors seek their fortunes here instead of putting the burden squarely on the shoulders of locals.

For now, expansion is a great aspect of living in Dickinson.

Yes, it’ll be wonderful for many when Menards opens and if some new restaurants come to town. And I get the feeling if a certain big-box store comes, some southwest North Dakotans are going to have a three-day binge emptying their bank accounts at the place Ron Gardenhire affectionately calls Tarzhay.

But, at the end of the day, we have to remember there remains the possibility — however long the odds may be — another bust could happen if the wrong pieces are moved to the wrong spots on the international chess board.

But I’m not betting on it.

I think it’s more likely Dickinson will have close to 50,000 residents in 10 years than suffer an economic bust would cripple the city and destroy our burgeoning little economy.

Then again, at this point, nothing that happens outside of our little corner of the world surprises me. The only thing that would is 99-cent-per-gallon gas.

Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at dmonke@thedickinsonpress.com or tweet him at monkebusiness.

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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