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Meeting Watford City's vehicle needs

Red Rock Ford General Manager Alex Nelson and his girlfriend, Lisette Michaels stand inside the showroom at Dickinson. (Linda Sailer/The Dickinson Press)1 / 2
Red Rock Auto will soon be coming to Watford City. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

WATFORD CITY—Red Rock Auto is posed to meet Watford City's need for a new-car dealership in town. Construction is underway on the showroom, and it's projected to open this summer.

The family-owned business will be co-managed by the Nelson brothers—Alex and Adam.

Red Rock Ford is the third dealership started by the Nelson family in western North Dakota. Alex is general manager of Red Rock Ford, which recently opened in Dickinson, and Adam manages Red Rock Ford in Williston. Watford City will be a franchise for Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep and Ram.

The tradition of car dealerships originated with the brothers' parents, who began Nelson Auto Center in Fergus Falls, Minn. The dealership remains in the family, and they later opened Red Rock Transportation, an oil and gas field service company, in Watford City. It has since been sold.

"They came up with the name after seeing all the scoria, back at the start of the oil boom," Alex said.

Alex was familiar with western North Dakota even before he moved here.

"Back when I was young, we'd go out for rodeos in the summer," he said. "Watford was then a town of 1,500 people, now Watford must be supporting eight to 10,000, and from projections, they're estimating a growth of 10 to 12,000 people."

"Watford City is definitely a great community," he continued. "I ran a business out of Watford for six years—Dakota Spray Service from 2011-2016. We know the area and think there is a need."

He referenced how in the early 2000s, Watford City was home to three new-car dealerships, but one by one, they closed after serving the community for more than five decades.

He continued, "When I first came to Watford in 2011, really there was nothing south of the bypass, now there's a mile of businesses. Watford is definitely growing, and a lot of people are wanting to go there."

The Red Rock Dodge showroom will be attached to the LT Enterprises shop— a truck company that was owned by Luke Taylor. Taylor is a business a partner with the Nelsons. The shop will be used for the service and parts department, while the showroom and parking lot are featured in front.

Red Rock Dodge, located at 1212 Fourth Ave. NE, has identified a primary market— commercial fleet customers.

"So many medium-to-large-size businesses need work trucks," Alex said. "But we're not only here for truck buyers and commercial fleets—we'll have a little bit of everything."

In addition to sales, the location of Red Rock's service department will cut down on travel time for warranty work. Located in the midst of the Bakken, Watford its 86 miles to Dickinson, 47 to Williston and 53 to Sidney, Mont.

"We're trying to push our parts and service departments—there is such a huge need with the oil production picking up again," Alex said. "When we came to Williston and Dickinson, it really gave us an opportunity to be on the south end of the oil fields and we were on the north end. Now, we'll be right in the middle."

Adam Nelson said Red Rock Dodge will start with approximately 100 new vehicles and 40 to 50 used vehicles.

"I think the biggest thing is the opportunity to buy your parts and get your new vehicles serviced in Watford City. Currently, a lot of buyers are having to travel several hours to have work done. On top of that, it's going to provide 25 to 30 jobs in the relatively new term and to grow over time."

Red Rock Dodge is posed to make an impact on the local economy.

"I'm guessing we'll probably start with 25 employees, and as it grows, we're likely to see 30 to 40 jobs," Alex said. "We're in the process of hiring people, but are spreading the word, hoping people are interested in the positions."

Red Rock Dodge plans to have a grand opening shortly after its open, and its name will slightly change.

"As we get a little closer to opening, we'll be called Red Rock Auto—we will market all the Red Rock brand on, but we'll still have our individual websites," Alex said.

While Alex is involved with the Watford business, he and his girlfriend, Lisette Michaels, will continue living in Dickinson.

"I really like Dickinson, we're excited to be here. We've only lived here since October, and it definitely feels like home," he said.

Daniel Stenberg, economic development coordinator for McKenzie County, looks forward to having Red Rock open in Watford City.

"We definitely have the population base to support an entity like Red Rock, and we're excited that Watford City people won't have to travel to meet their car needs," Stenberg said.

Adam added, "We're really excited—we're building from the ground up—it gives us three opportunities to create a culture and buying experience and that's pretty unique."