Past year proof of life’s uncertainties

The only thing certain in this life is uncertainty.

Never was that more true than in southwest North Dakota in 2015.

We came into the year nervous about the state of the energy industry here as oil prices steadily dropped.

The commodity that had sparked so much growth, development and excitement in our little corner of the world all of a sudden wasn’t having such a great impact. Instead, everything seemed to hit pause, and oil companies began shuttering operations, taking down rigs and cutting workers by the dozen.

We now go into 2016 knowing it’s unlikely that the oil industry will soon return to the boom times that sparked and sustained our growth.

In September 2013, back when things were really humming along in Dickinson and growth was unprecedented, I wrote a column about how our little corner of the world is now greatly influenced by things out of our control, such as the flow of oil in the Middle East. Like many, I was bullish then on all things oil and development in Dickinson, stating that the city was likelier to reach 50,000 people before another oil bust happened.

Still, I left it open to possibility, stating “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 chessboard.”

A little more than two years after writing that statement, I feel like an idiot savant. Like many, I knew this was coming but didn’t want to believe it.

The same was true for so many issues our city faced this past year.

We watched commercial development come to a near screeching halt, apartments empty and for-sale signs go up on lawns. We celebrated the building of a state-of-the-art police and fire department, and the opening of the nation’s first greenfield refinery since 1976.

Now, our housing market is as cold as a winter evening and the refinery built during an oil boom is off to a struggling start because of the low crude prices.

But, uncertainty here extends beyond oil.

We came into the year not knowing what the future would hold for the Dickinson State University Foundation, or the university itself, for that matter.

Now, with the new DSU Heritage Foundation up and running and with Thomas Mitzel ready to take the university president’s office, things are looking up at the College on the Hill for the first time in nearly five years.

Dickinson got a new mayor after Dennis Johnson unexpectedly announced his resignation in October due to conflict of interest with his position as a MDU Resources board of director.

In November, longtime city commissioner Gene Jackson took over the commission president’s seat and became the city’s mayor. Jackson may not have that title for very long, as he has not expressed interest in pursuing the position beyond next June’s election.

That decision may leave the door open for new leadership in our city, and a hotly contested city commission race in the spring.

Again, we don’t know for certain who’ll run or who’ll be our city’s mayor at this time next year.

As 2015 has proved, life is full of uncertainties and challenges. But at this time of the year, it’s good to remember that compared to many places in this world, we still have it pretty darn good.

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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