Economic Development in Williston, ND
Economic Development Director for the City of Williston, Shawn Wenko, provides insight on the changes and growth Williston has experienced over the last five years.
Describe the economic landscape in the Williston area.
We have experienced a considerable uptick in economic activity this year. Sales tax distributions, hotel and apartment occupancy and single-family home sales are up compared to 2016.
Activity through out STAR Fund has also seen an increase in applications this year. The biggest difference we may be seeing as opposed to several years ago is the size of the application request for funding is smaller. There are smaller projects yet very diverse.
How has your community changed from one year ago? Three years ago?
I think the biggest change we have experienced is the shift in demographics from a temporary rotational workforce to one of more permanance. This is evident as we are experiencing record enrollment at our schools and universities. The male-to-female ratio has evened out significantly as well.
What positive impacts has the Williston area experienced over the past five years?
The investment in infrastructure improvements in Williston and the region I would say has been our single greatest positive impact. We have built an impressive infrastructure that has caught the attention of globally diversified industries. In addition to the miles of new roads, underground utilities and public works related facilities, we have added some nice quality of life features that include a state of the art recreation center, new high school, restaurant and retail options. Williston State College has revitalized its campus which now offers free tuition within a five-county region of western North Dakota.
What are the three greatest challenges you face today?
Workforce, Workforce, Workforce!!!
Unemployment remains extremely low. We continue to face a severe shortage of skilled workforce to fill an estimated 2,000 jobs in Williston.
I believe Williston is still affected by what I would call “Media Sensationalism.” Although this community has had its challenges, I think you will find once you visit the community that what you read and what you actually experience are much different.
What advice do you have for someone considering moving to Williston?
I hear from a lot of new residents that their experience in Williston is much more positive than what they thought it would be prior to moving here. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. You will find this to be a welcoming community where the average age is early 30s. Williston is changing dramatically as it tries to adjust to the demands of young residents.
I am an entrepreneur looking for business opportunities in Williston. What recommendations do you have for me?
Start with the Williston Economic Development office. We will work closely with you to help develop your business idea, research available property, introduce you to the Small Business Development Center for business plan development, and research any possible assistance programs that may fit your needs.
What lessons learned do you have to share?
The business of promoting economic development is unique. You never know what you may experience week to week. Become a great multitasker, don’t be afraid to take risks and be prepared to shift your daily routine on the fly.
How will you measure success for your economic development office?
We look at this in two ways in our office.
- If we have provided assistance through any of our STAR Fund programs, we like to see the amount of private investment contributed. Currently we are seeing about a 10:1 return.
- Change in community demographics: For Williston it’s all about quality of life development and building a community that people want to move to. Birth rates, school enrollment, ethnic diversity and male-to-female ration are all numbers we watch closely.
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