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Minot recovers from historic flood while accommodating swelling population

MINOT -- In June 2011, more than 11,000 residents were forced to evacuate Minot as the Mouse River rose to a historic level and threatened to destroy the city causing more than $100 million in damages to the city's infrastructure. At about the same time, the oil boom in the nearby Bakken region kicked into high gear and Minot began experiencing a surge of interest from businesses and workers wanting to make Minot their home base. As clean-up commenced and residents returned to their homes, the Magic City faced the interesting challenge of recovering from a historic flood while simultaneously accommodating historic new population growth. It's difficult to pinpoint the exact current number of residents, given the continued rapid growth rate, but best estimates place Minot's population somewhere between 45,000 and 48,000 people, compared to the U.S. Census count of 40,888 in 2010.

Indeed, the oil boom in western North Dakota has had an obvious impact on the community and continues to be a major driver in the city's growth. The Great Plains Energy Park has been fully leased by various oil service companies since opening in 2010 and has generated more than $300 million in capital investment from a $3.5 million infrastructure investment. Halliburton Co. is the largest tenant of the park and has enabled the city to expand its infrastructure in that area to further support the city's growth, according to Jerry Chavez, president of the Minot Area Development Corp. In fact, he says the park has been so successful that a second energy park is being developed to provide even more space for oil-related service companies seeking work space in the area.

The community is also investing in making the most of its proximity to rail by developing the Port of North Dakota. Billed as the largest development between Seattle and Chicago in BNSF Railway territory, the port provides easy transloading for oil and agriculture businesses and is expected to become a significant draw to the city's industrial corridor. In late July, Chavez says five businesses had so far agreed to locate at the port. Among them is United Pulse Trading Inc., which recently completed a $30 million food processing plant capable of processing more than 75,000 metric tons of locally grown pulse crops such as lentils, chickpeas and dry beans each year. The plant will employ approximately 45 people.

The United Pulse plant serves as an example of Minot's continued focus on agriculture, which remains the state's top industry. And while oil is expected to also remain a major part of Minot's economy for many years, the MADC has identified manufacturing as another industry with great potential for growth in the city and is actively recruiting new businesses such as Missouri-based pipe manufacturer United Poly Systems, which received initial approval from the city's MAGIC Fund Screening Committee in late July for a $400,000 grant to build a facility at the port.

Steady sources

While Minot is happily welcoming new businesses to the city, previously existing economic drivers continue to play a vital role as well. The Minot Air Force Base, with approximately 6,700 full-time employees, accounts for up to 29 percent of the area's economy, according to John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce. He points out that dependents living on the air base often fill lower-paying jobs that don't provide enough income for an individual with rent or mortgage to pay. "With our unemployment rate as low as it is (about 2 percent), any base dependent who wants a job has one," he says. "If the base was to suddenly close and those dependents were no longer in the area, it would be devastating."

Minot State University will celebrate its centennial this month. The university contributed $183.6 million to Minot's economy in fiscal year 2011, according to a North Dakota University System economic impact report. Student spending generated another $67 million in economic activity. In the fall of 2010, approximately 3,000 full-time students were enrolled at the university. Business activity resulting from MSU's expenditures was capable of supporting 497 secondary jobs in 2011 in addition to the 632 positions at the university, according to the report.

Trinity Health continues to be the city's largest private sector employer, with about 2,500 full-time employees as of the first quarter of 2013.

Imagining a new downtown

Minot also is rebuilding its downtown to be better than ever. Millions of local, state and federal dollars have been earmarked for the "Imagine Minot" downtown redevelopment effort, including $18 million recently awarded from the U.S. Economic Development Administration disaster recovery fund for infrastructure repairs and expansions to support the redevelopment. The total redevelopment plan is expected to cost $140 million and includes plans for housing as well as business and entertainment spaces. One of the most unique projects planned for the area is Artspace, which will provide space for arts and cultural activities on the ground floor and affordable housing for artists and their families on upper levels. The project recently received a nearly $98,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide assistance to Native American artists and entrepreneurs and will provide space to the Turtle Mountain Tribal Arts Association for training, workshops and gallery space.

Residential development

Like other Oil Patch communities, Minot has struggled to keep up with demand for all types of housing for its residents, but city leaders say progress is being made. The city has launched an entry-level home initiative and is challenging developers to build 2,000 homes in the $150,000 price range. Many new apartment complexes are also in the works. In May 2012, the city issued just six apartment unit building permits. This May, 150 apartment unit permits were issued.

Single-family home construction was down this May compared to the previous year, but MacMartin says flooded homes that have been renovated are entering back into the market and new homes that were previously selling at inflated prices are beginning to come down in price, reflecting a housing market that is returning to normal as availability catches up with demand. Likewise, he says rent prices for apartments are decreasing somewhat as more units are built. "The apartments haven't fallen enough yet in price point, but as hundreds of apartments come onto the market, that should help," he says.

MacMartin says Minot is dedicated to maintaining quality of life for its residents and wants to attract families to the city. It has also made an effort to control its growth in a way that maximizes available infrastructure without putting too much pressure on existing residents. "Minot isn't growing just for growth's sake," he says. "I think we're taking a careful approach to what we're doing."