For people asking, “Where is the growth in Bowman County?” the Bowman County Development Corp. has an answer: It’s happening, but it might not be as tangible as some would expect.
According to BCDC Executive Director Teran Doerr, whose ultimate role is to spur and monitor area growth, growth is indeed occurring within the county. While it might not be through a large population boom many hoped for, local growth is most apparent in the addition of new services, businesses, housing and, perhaps most importantly, the continual growth and strength of the local economy.
“I think a lot of people expect to see a large population growth, while I think that is a sign of growth, you have to look at other things,” Doerr said. “Our office is in the middle of a lot of it so we do see it more than some people.”
The biggest indicator of recent, real growth was detailed by one number: $3 million. That’s what Doerr said was the increase in taxable sales and purchases within the county between 2013 and 2014.
“That means people are still spending their money here, they’re still driving through here investing in businesses,” Doerr said. “It is happening. It is growth.”
Data for 2015 will seemingly be skewed, however, as the oil exploration industry prominent in western North Dakota plummeted beginning at the end of last year.
Tana Smolnikar, co-owner of Dale’s Clothing and Custom Embroidery in Bowman, said for the last few years her business has experienced growing sales.
That is not the case so far this year as sales in the Bowman business’s work wear department have seen a big decrease.
“Everybody has cut back,” Smolnikar said. “Usually we have big companies ordering quarterly for their employees and they have not done that this year.”
Those effects might be temporary, however, as key leaders in the oil industry have signaled that vast oil exploration will resume; it’s just a matter of when.
Development around Bowman County is still moving forward, with some new businesses moving into the community this year.
While not all businesses have a storefront, they are there and adding to the local economy, Doerr said.
The BCDC’s focus to procure growth is not limited to bringing in new businesses, according to Doerr; it’s about helping existing businesses. That’s where growth is at for any community, in the businesses that are already established, she explained.
“We might not always see rising numbers or a completely full Main Street, but we have to provide support to maintain what has already been gained,” Doerr said.
Quantifiable growth breeds many factors. Be it population, economy, or business, each area contributes to the overall growth of a region. While growth may not be seen specifically in one area or another, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Doerr said the BCDC’s impacts and data demonstrate that people and businesses continue to find Bowman County a worthwhile community to invest in, but “there is always an ebb and flow in growth and we adapt our priorities and strategic plan to address the needs of the community at a given time.”
But there are some who disagree.
Jud Seaman, co-owner of Key Realty in Bowman, said that Bowman is not seeing growth, despite what is said by local leaders.
Statistics from a Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a service used by real estate brokers that houses data of real estate listings, for the Badlands Board of Realtors showed that the real estate market for southwestern North Dakota remains flat and has been that way since 2013.
In 2014, 53 homes were sold in Bowman County, only six more than in 2013, according to the MLS statistics.
Seaman, who relocated to Bowman about five years ago, said those numbers are not indicative of the kind of growth that has been advertised around the county.
“Bowman is trying to be a little Dickinson, but it’s really a big Amidon,” Seaman said.
Seaman said there is nothing to truly attract large masses of new people to the area, adding that the only businesses that would thrive in Bowman County would be those related to either of the local economy’s two main sectors — agriculture and oil production.
“It takes an entire economy, a bunch of different businesses, to make it successful,” Doerr said.
She said some businesses in the area would relate to those two industries, but many would not and would still thrive.
A glance at the BCDC’s website, BowmanND.com, which lists all the available jobs around Bowman County shows a large, diverse amount of open positions ranging from teachers, engineers and retail workers to nurses, truck drivers and technicians. Bowman County looks for both full- and part-time help for many of its local businesses.
Bowman County’s growth potential is not tied specifically to oil, Doerr explained. “There are other commercial, industrial, retail, manufacturing and agricultural opportunities for growth in the county,” she said.
For someone doubting that Bowman County is, in fact, growing, Doerr said she would simply take them on a tour to see what is happening within the community — an idea of Bowman County’s growth is visible in the community’s changing landscape.
The new construction around the county, including a hotel, ambulance garage, airport and hospital, is an indication of local growth, according to Doerr.
“When people drive through here, it’s a sign of growth that attracts people,” she said. “People don’t invest millions of dollars into a community that’s dying.”
While a new airport and hospital could serve merely as a reflection of reinvestment in the community and not necessarily growth, Doerr disagrees.
“(Those) are protecting the long-term sustainability of our community and I think those are some of the building blocks that come with growth,” Doerr explained. “That’s how we get there — if there’s an end goal, those are part of it.”
Without an official U.S. Census — that won’t happen for another five years; the most recent was completed in 2010 — the current exact population of Bowman County can only be estimated.
But Doerr said in the interim it is felt that there is a growing population in the area.
“I hear a lot of feedback from some of the local businesses saying they’re seeing a lot more people that they don’t recognize in their businesses,” Doerr said.
The BCDC also has a growing number of people calling into their office searching for housing.
While housing is still available around Bowman County, it’s not a very diversified market, according to Doerr.
“For a family like mine, who’s looking for a slightly larger home because I’ve got kids, there’s not a lot on the market for that right now,” she said.
But Doerr said she is also willing to build and if there are areas within the county where that can happen, then she believes there are many other people that would look into that possibility, as well.
After last year’s meeting of the BCDC for its annual review, Doerr sat down with the Pioneer and discussed what the county could expect for 2014 related to housing, business and more. Doerr said last year that the population trend of Bowman County was steady, manageable, but good.
For the most part, Doerr’s outlook was accurate, particularly regarding the county seeing an addition of several new businesses.
Though, with the slump in western North Dakota’s oil exploration, it’s looking less likely that Bowman County would be encumbered by growth anywhere near the likes of what Williston and Watford City have endured.
Doerr maintained that it’s still necessary to plan for a large amount of local growth to ensure there is a strategy in place. The oil hub cities in northwestern North Dakota didn’t have such safeguards and were bombarded by massive growth across nearly all sectors.