Borscht draws Post: Washington's top newspaper explores ND oil boom
When Jack Wandler, owner of Jack's Family Restaurant and Catering in Dickinson, answered a knock at the back door to conduct an interview Tuesday, he didn't know he would be hosting a national media reporter Thursday.
The Washington Post staff stopped for pie and Jack's famous borscht Thursday during its tour of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
"This is a little off the route, but since some of the oil from here is going to go in the pipeline, we thought we would spend some time here," Post staff writer Steven Mufson said.
North Dakota's oil boom has attracted national attention. Jim Cramer of CNBC's "Mad Money" traveled to Killdeer in August to film an episode for "Investing in America." Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Tuesday also said he gets several calls from the national media.
The Post is not the first name of notability to visit Jack's, Wandler said. State senators and ABC's "Good Morning America" have also gotten a taste of the food establishment, Wandler said.
Mufson got the suggestion from former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to try the borscht.
The Post will travel 1,700 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, where the pipeline ends, photographer Michael S. Williamson said. The group, which includes Mufson's daughter, Natalie, and video journalist Whitney Shefte, are writing stories about the pipeline and oil activity in North Dakota. They also want to capture residents' reaction to the changes they have experienced.
"What's been really striking for me is this is my first major visit since the recent boom," said Williamson, who has written about North Dakota for 30 years. "I've been through towns (in North Dakota) like the Tiogas, the Stanleys, the Dickinsons and Willistons when they were actually losing population. That was actually the story."
Now, it is the exact opposite, Williamson said. Dickinson had 17,787 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, but City Administrator Shawn Kessel told Forum Communications the city is serving about 22,000 people. The city could double in size in 10 years, officials said.
"To come here and see construction sites and trucks in really small towns, it's blown me away," Williamson said. "I would not have believed in my lifetime that I would pay $150 a night for a motel room in a small town in North Dakota."
Hotels would beg Williamson to stay, he said, offering meals and rates of $25 a night.
The boom has impacted Jack's employment capabilities, but it is as busy as ever, Wandler said.
"I don't think everybody realizes how big it is," he said. "I think our state gets a lot PR all over the country just from the fact of this oil thing."
North Dakota oil is the new "gold rush," Williamson said. He has heard of people coming to the state to strike it big with high wages, but they often meet the high costs of living.
"People are coming here to strive for the 'American Dream,'" Shefte said.
Oil production has happened fast, stressing infrastructure and road systems, she added.
"It's been tough, it looks like, for some of these towns," she said.
North Dakota has a "rugged beauty" to it, Williamson said, and he is excited to see what structures will go up.
No matter what happens, Steven Mufson was the impressed by all the "good and bad" changes.
"I think it has a lot of impact beyond the borders of North Dakota," he said. "That's why we are here."