Careful Planning Makes the Most of South Dakota Windfall

South Dakota is the latest state to find themselves in an oil boom. Such news brings with it tremendous wealth in the form of increased employment and local business revenue.

The state isn't poised to compete with North Dakota — which is expected to soon become the second-biggest oil-producing state behind Texas — but experts say that crude-carrying areas should prepare to see some of the same prosperity and problems.

The flip side of the coin is increased traffic, housing shortages and higher rents.

A recent town hall meeting called "Coming Down the Pipe" highlighted these concerns. The standing room only event featured experts from the oil industry, infrastructure and economics talking and answering questions about the frenzy in North Dakota's oil patch and how they might relate to South Dakota's future.

"We want people to understand the effect of development and the stress it puts on the community," said Lynn Hammerstrom, former president of First Interstate Bank who lives in Belle Fourche, a town in northwestern South Dakota with about 5,700 residents.

"Make sure you focus. It's all about planning," said Gene Veeder, a panel speaker and executive director of McKenzie County Job Development Authority who said constructing single-family units and affordable housing should be a priority.

"If you need 1,000 workers, you need to figure it out," he said.

The panelists also said South Dakotans should embrace the possibilities. Truck drivers bring business, and communities will need parking, restaurants, truck stops and highway expansion — all of which will translate to more jobs, they said.

Shawn Wenko, a panelist and assistant director of the Economic Development Office in Williston, N.D., said the boom has brought jobs in all skill levels. Though oil is the No. 1 industry, agriculture and retail contribute to the economy, he said. Other job openings are in emergency services, medicine, education and dentistry.

"We're seeing a boom of population while for generations or decades we saw a decline," Wenko said. "The younger generation is now moving back. In northwest North Dakota, your graduates from there left in the 1990s because there were no opportunities. Now, they're fighting to get back."