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Vision West group's leaders unsure of oil's involvement

No real consensus on the involvement of oil companies in community growth developed Wednesday as the people shaping western North Dakota's future met one last time before implementing their visions for the communities they hope to mold and grow.

The planning phase of the Vision West ND program wrapped up Wednesday with the final meeting of a consortium group at the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in Dickinson.

The oil industry's involvement in community growth and planning was a hot-button issue for many present.

"As a county commissioner, I am so strongly convinced that communications with the oil industry will get you far further than sitting there and trying to bicker and badmouth and just ask them for money," said Daryl Dukart of Dunn County. "It's all about communication -- finding the right people and putting the right people into leadership responsibilities you'll move farther."

Oil companies want to build in communities where their employees want to live, said Karalee Cox from Building Communities, a process to map public development.

"The bigger picture is we have a $2.4 billion plan. Can you provide $1 billion?" said Shirley Brentrup, Vision West ND project director.

There is a big worry about loss of control when oil companies are let into the plan, said Daphne Clark, public information officer for the Upper Missouri District Health Unit.

"Once you bring them into the plan -- if you're really bringing them into the plan -- they maybe don't represent the interests that we are representing," Clark said. "The oil companies -- yup, they're concerned about getting employees, but they're not concerned about the communities. The number one concern of the oil company is their bottom line."

While that may be true of the CEOs, the local leadership does care, said Ray Ann Kilen, interim director of the Strom Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

"They are living in our communities. These are their communities, too, now," Kilen said. "If this was Ford Motor, we would have them at the table because of the impact. If this was an aerospace -- if it was any other industry that was this large coming -- we would want them at our table to at least give us some input."

The consortium group is comprised of community members from throughout western North Dakota -- some of whom are leaders for the county planning process as well -- who hold leadership roles in their communities.

The planning process began two years ago, both at the broad consortium level and at the county level to prepare local political subdivisions for the growth happening now and to set them up for future success.

The survey to put the final plan together will be completed by consortium members online and the report will be available in about a month.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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