Infrastructure that has come along to serve the oil and gas sector is laying a foundation for future diversity. Taking that diversification a step further will be the focus of the Williston WEST conference, a two-day think tank on the future of the region.

The cost for the event has been lowered to $250 for VIP tickets that offer access to all the sessions, networking events and meals. The sessions-only level of membership is now free, but seating is limited, so registration is required. 

A number of new speakers have been recently announced for the event, among them Curtis Shuck with Red River Oil, who will talk about how diversification has been strengthening his business.

Other speakers include Harvey Mackay of “Swim with the Sharks” fame and Admiral Bill Owens, who is returning to Williston with the topic “Bold Ideas.” Gubernatorial candidate and tech guru Doug Burgum has been tapped to talk about telecommunication and technology trends.

Cardon Global, meanwhile, will unveil their plans for redeveloping Sloulin Field, and a timeline will be laid down for the Williston Basin International Airport, which is in the process of applying for a Foreign Trade Zone. Data Analytics insights from NDINSIGHTS will be shared, and much, much more.

Shuck is among those successfully branching out to new opportunities during the oil and gas downturn, and has seen first hand how the infrastructure laid down for oil and gas is now becoming such a game changer for Williston.

“Absolutely, oil and agriculture are the foundations of Williston’s economy, no doubt,” Shuck says. “And those are going to continue to come and be an important part of the future. At the same time, there are lots of opportunities for us to get better at what we do and further differentiate ourselves through the use of technology.”

A prime example of how infrastructure has laid the groundwork for diversification is the wind energy boom in North Dakota. Eight years ago, Shuck recalls North Dakota being highlighted in strategic planning sessions as a prime wind region. 

Unfortunately, however, it didn’t have road and rail routes to support movement of the out-sized parts. And then, even if that weren’t an issue, there was no tie-in to the national energy grid, to carry the power they generated to the wider market.

Fast-forward to today. Parts for two wind projects are being shipped out of Williston from the Stony Creek Railyard, and more projects are being considered, as better roads have made moving the parts feasible and an electric superhighway installed by Basin Electric has made tying to the national grid possible. 

The wind boom is among things bringing new layers of job opportunities to the region, and that is helping even out some of the ups and downs of the commodity-driven economy. Oil and gas and agriculture may be seeing downturns right now, but with more than 800 job listings posted by Williston’s Job Services ND office, there are plenty of opportunities in the area.

“The mainstream would love to portray this down and out vision of Williston,” Shuck says, “but nothing is further from the truth. I’m just amazed as I stop a minute to look around at how much investment has been made in the community and the region. Williston has seen such amazing, invested growth, which many communities would never see in their entire life cycle.”

The amount of money spent for hard infrastructure and brick and mortar stuff that isn’t going away any time soon is just amazing, Shuck adds.

“It’s freeing us up for that next round,” he says. “It’s going to make us that much more effective as we start going after some of these other sectors.”

New sectors coming into Williston can now plug and play, Shuck says, without making the huge investments that had once been necessary to do business here.

“That’s an important element to talk about,” Shuck says. “Yeah it doesn’t play the same as ‘Williston is busted.’ But it’s important to get the word out. We are getting better and smarter. We are in this thing for the long haul.”

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