GRAND FORKS — Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Grand Fork/East Grand Forks Chamber, is content to conduct the Chamber’s Revisit the West business development meetings through video conferencing, though he’d much rather be there in person.

Wilfahrt and other business leaders in the region had planned to visit points west in the state to refresh relationships with businesses there and look for opportunities to strengthen those ties. When the coronavirus pandemic upended life across the nation, it became necessary to pivot to video meetings, to carry out what has been dubbed “Revisit the West.” Those meetings between community leaders here and in Watford City, Tioga and elsewhere in that region harken back to a 2010 trip that established those relationships.

“There’s nothing that beats seeing it in real life,” Wilfahrt said, though he added the video meetings are up to the task of bringing people together.

The first of the three sessions was held in late June, and participants were brought up to speed on infrastructure, education and quality-of-life developments over the past 10 years, and what those needs are going forward. Grand Forks-based Construction Engineers, which has had a location in Watford City since 2012, is in the final phases of completing a 600-student elementary school there.

“We've made an impact out there, and they've made an impact on the bottom line of a lot of our companies in our community,” Wilfahrt said. “And that benefits everybody in Grand Forks.”

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Vanita Best, community development director in Watford City, and session participant, said a 2019 community survey highlighted the need for more daycare capacity and quality single-family housing in "diverse packages.”

“I would say those are the two areas that we're really looking forward to, once we get things up and running again,” Best said.

The 10-year anniversary of the Chamber’s 32-person visit to Williston and other western locations in the state comes in a remarkably different economic climate. Then, Grand Forks was coming off a decade-long rebuilding effort after the Flood of 1997, while the oil boom was getting underway. The one-two punch of the coronavirus pandemic, which dried up demand, and an international price war, saw the value plunge and production was scaled back.

The second session, set for July 28, will focus specifically on how the petroleum industry is adjusting for the future and will feature a presentation from the chief economist of ConocoPhillips.

“It's obviously a different time with the price of oil, but they still have some needs out there, and we have some needs here,” Wilfahrt said.

A June 23 Forum News Service report noted oil and gas taxes in April came in at $38 million, or 81% below what the Legislature forecast in 2019. Mike Dunn, a business development manager for Construction Engineers, and one of the organizers of the Revisit the West sessions, acknowledges the difficulty the western region of the state is going through now, but said there are opportunities in health care infrastructure and single-family housing.

“They still have long-term plans and lots of needs, so we're still trying to support the oil and gas industry with any building projects they might have, as well as commercial business,” Dunn said.

The agenda for the final session on Aug. 26 is still fluid, but will focus on the impact of oil on state budgets over the past decade and give a peek at the 2021 legislative session. Wilfahrt said state legislators from the northeastern corner of the state have been supportive of funding western infrastructure developments — which, in turn, yielded funding for projects in Grand Forks, such as the water treatment plant, Grand Sky and building projects at the University of North Dakota.

“I think anytime we can continue to work together, east and west, it benefits both sides of the state,” said Wilfahrt.