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How Dickinson Works, And What Is Going To Happen, Part II

Although this blog post is a continuation from Part I, here is where I begin explaining the basis for understanding how Dickinson, North Dakota works.

If anyone wants or expects to be successful in Dickinson, they must first understand how Dickinson works.  I am going to start off with the simplest, most important facts first.

Foremost, Dickinson is the regional center for shopping, supplies, and services for the geographical areas consisting of Medora, Belfield, South Heart, New Hradec, Manning, Killdeer, Halliday, Dodge, Gladstone, Taylor, Richardton, Lefor, Regent, and New England.  No matter what else happens, Dickinson being the supply center for these aforementioned towns is not likely to change for a long time.  The next largest city, Bismarck, the state capital, is 100 miles to the east.  Here is a map of the Dickinson area
https://images.app.goo.gl/su98oCKBHxrKd3pNA

Geographically, there is nothing special or unique about Dickinson.  It sits on a rolling, nearly tree-less prairie, just like all of the other towns in this area.  Dickinson got its start the same way as all of the other towns in western North Dakota, it was settled by land-grant homesteaders after the passage of the 1862 Homestead Act.  The homesteaders in the Dickinson area were primarily immigrants from Ukraine, Germany, and Scandinavia.

The fourteen towns that I mentioned earlier, Medora, Belfield, South Heart, New Hradec, Manning, Killdeer, Halliday, Dodge, Gladstone, Taylor, Richardton, Lefor, Regent, and New England, by the early 1900s each of these towns had their own general store, school house, and churches.  Before the invention and widespread use of the automobile, it took much more time to travel, it was done by horse, buggy, wagon, or on foot.  Even small communities had to have some local businesses, a school house, and churches.

Some of the factors or circumstances that caused Dickinson to grow more than the surrounding towns were:  the Northern Pacific railroad was built through Dickinson in the 1880s;  the 40-room St. Josephs Hospital was built in Dickinson in 1911;  Dickinson  State University was founded in 1918;  the Dickinson Municipal Airport began airline service in 1959;  Interstate 94 was completed through Dickinson in the 1960s.

As Dickinson grew, gained more businesses, provided more services, and its infrastructure grew, the surrounding towns began to rely more and more on Dickinson for supplies and services.  Unfortunately, as time went on, the surrounding towns began to lose many of their own local businesses and services, because of Dickinson.

For instance, the towns of Medora, Belfield, South Heart, New Hradec, Manning, Halliday, Dodge, Gladstone, Lefor, Regent, and New England no longer have a grocery store, family clothing store, appliance store, drug store, pharmacy, clinic, or doctor.  Most of the surrounding towns do not have an automobile dealer, an automobile repair shop, a tire dealer, or barber shop.

The following are the essential businesses in Dickinson, the type of businesses that this area can not go without:

Four grocery stores, five hardware stores, two farm/ranch supply stores, three building supply stores, five tire stores, nine automobile dealers, nine auto repair shops, four automobile tow companies, four pharmacies, two funeral homes, five liquor stores, and Walmart.

The following businesses in Dickinson are almost essential to this area:

Three truck stops, two tractor truck repair/parts centers, several heavy equipment/farm equipment dealer/repair/parts centers, three heavy equipment rental yards, several industrial/electrical/welding supply warehouses, three utility/livestock trailer dealer/repair centers, ten fast food restaurants, half a dozen furniture stores, and eleven banks.

These aforementioned businesses in Dickinson are either essential or very nearly essential to this area.  Because of these businesses, this is what brings people to Dickinson, brings money to Dickinson, and provides employment for people in Dickinson.  Without these businesses, there would be no people coming to Dickinson, no money coming into Dickinson, no employment in Dickinson, and very few people able to live in Dickinson.

When I start to list the essential services in Dickinson below, such as the schools and hospitals, the reader must remember, if it were not for the large number of essential businesses in Dickinson that bring people to Dickinson, there would not be enough people living in Dickinson to have schools and hospitals.  The services are here, because of the number of people here, and the number of people here, are the result of the large number of essential businesses in Dickinson.

The following are the essential services in Dickinson, the services that this area can not go without:

Two public utility companies, two public phone service companies, one ambulance service, two medium size hospitals, half a dozen medical clinics, half a dozen dentists, several optometrists, police department, sheriff department, regional jail, several fire stations, highway patrol office, city maintenance department, department of transportation office, driver’s license office, regional court house, one post office, two high schools, middle school, several elementary schools, and several veterinarians.

The following services in Dickinson are very nearly essential to this area:

One regional airport with private airplane and commercial airline service, one bus service, several car rental services, half a dozen taxi services, a dozen motels/hotels, many beauticians and barbers, two dozen attorneys, a dozen CPAs, many residential and commercial contractors in plumbing, electrical, HVAC, roofing, home construction, concrete, and excavation.

I spent some time trying to specifically identify the essential businesses and essential services in Dickinson, to make everyone completely aware, that many of the other types of businesses and services in Dickinson are just supplemental, they are not critical.

Some of the supplemental, non-critical types of businesses and services in Dickinson are:

Traditional restaurants, pizza delivery, ice cream parlors, coffee shops, bars, sports bars, bicycle shops, guns stores, sporting goods stores, movie theaters, motorcycle dealers, snow mobile dealers, UTV dealers, travel trailer dealers, tattoo parlors, vehicle accessory dealers, jewelry stores, dance studios, fitness centers, tanning salons, pawn shops, daycare centers, insurance agencies, real estate agencies.

Lastly, I need to name some of the large companies that operate in Dickinson, that have not been covered yet because they are not an essential business or service in Dickinson, but they do employ many people in Dickinson.  These are companies that perform work or sell products outside of the Dickinson area:

Halliburton, Schlumberger, BJ Services, Marathon Oil, Continental Resources, Philips Conoco, Whiting Petroleum, Key Energy, MBI, Nuverra, Lufkin, Fisher Industries, General Steel, Medora Corporation, Steffes, TMI cabinets, Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, Martin Construction, Northern Improvement, Baranko Brothers, Tooz Construction, and Winn Construction.

There are several reasons why I separated the businesses and services in Dickinson into separate categories. One reason was to provide clarity on what types of businesses and services there are in Dickinson; Second, I wanted to differentiate between essential/non-essential businesses and services; and Third, I wanted to be able to show how the end of the oil boom in Dickinson is going to affect businesses, services, and employment in Dickinson based on the role of the business or service in the economy.

The most recent oil boom in North Dakota lasted from 2007 through 2015.  Due to the price of oil dropping from over $100 per barrel to less than $50 per barrel in 2015, the oil companies decreased drilling operations.

The number of operating oil drill rigs in North Dakota went from over 200 to less than 50 currently.  Less drilling meant less well sites being developed, less drill rigs operating, less drill rigs being transported, less hydraulic fracturing, less sand and water hauling, less work-over rig completions, less pump jacks being installed, less cranes being rented, less tractor truck and hot shot transportation of material and equipment to the oil field.

The number of workers employed in the oil field decreased.  Many of the oil field workers who lost their job left the Dickinson area.  Consequently, there were fewer purchases and less money spent at local businesses such as auto dealers, auto repair shops, tire stores, furniture stores, grocery stores, hardware stores, restaurants, bars, sporting goods stores, movie theaters, etcetera.

Many workers leaving Dickinson caused there to be a decreased demand for housing.  The number of new and existing homes and apartments available for occupancy, exceeded the demand.  This was a signal that new homes, new apartments, new businesses, new shopping centers, new roads, and new infrastructure might not need to be constructed.

The residential and commercial construction industries slowed down in the Dickinson area.  This meant even more unemployed workers leaving the Dickinson area.  Less heavy equipment was being purchased, less heavy equipment was being rented, less building supplies were being purchased, local businesses had fewer customers and fewer purchases, less services were being used, more homes and apartments became vacated.

Near the beginning of March 2020, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, and Russia did not agree to reduce the amount of oil that they were producing.  This caused an oversupply of oil on the World market, and the price of oil in the U.S. dropped to $31 per barrel after the first week of March.  This oil price drop is predicted to start a whole new oil industry slow down, with even less oil well sites being developed and drilled.

The oil field work in Dickinson is expected to decrease even further now, with more oil field workers losing their jobs and leaving Dickinson.  There will be even fewer customers and less money spent at local businesses and services in Dickinson.

The essential businesses in Dickinson, such as grocery stores, hardware stores, automobile dealers, and tire stores, they will have fewer customers, they will be less busy, and some of these businesses will reduce their number of employees.

The nearly essential business such as heavy equipment dealers, heavy equipment repair, trailer dealers, furniture stores, and banks will reduce their number of employees.

The essential service providers such as medical clinics and schools will eventually reduce some of their staff as there are fewer people in Dickinson.

The nearly essential service providers such as beauticians, attorneys, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC will have less work.

Supplemental non-critical businesses and services in Dickinson that will have less work, and require fewer workers are restaurants, coffee shops, tattoo parlors, recreational vehicle dealers, daycare centers, insurance agencies, and real estate agencies.

Some of the large employers in Dickinson who will have less work, and could reduce their workforce are:  Halliburton, Schlumberger, BJ Services, Marathon Oil, Continental Resources, Conoco Philips, Whiting Petroleum, MBI, Nuverra, Lufkin, Steffes, Martin Construction, Northern Improvement, Baranko Brothers, Tooz Construction, and Winn Construction.

Once essential businesses, essential service providers, supplemental business and services, and some of the largest employers in Dickinson have let some of their workers go, these unemployed workers and their families may have to leave the Dickinson area.  This in turn will make Dickinson even smaller, with even less consumers.

Dickinson will continue to be the regional supplier of goods and services for this area, because there are fourteen smaller towns surrounding Dickinson that rely on it.  I estimate that the population of Dickinson right now is approximately 24,000 people.  By the year 2022, I believe that the population of Dickinson will have decreased to about 21,000 people.

The reason for the expected decline in population, is because of the reduced work in the oil field.  Unemployed oil field workers will leave Dickinson, local businesses and services will become less busy, these local businesses and services will lay off some of their workers.  These unemployed workers and their families will leave Dickinson.

The Best Seven Years For Dickinson, North Dakota

In 1996 I moved to Tampa to work for a company as an engineer.  I rented an apartment on Lake Magdelene in north Tampa.  Up until the 1950s, most of north Tampa was hundreds and hundreds of acres of orange groves.  As Tampa grew continually, it pushed northward into these orange groves.

This area of Tampa was very beautiful, or it had been.  There were probably nearly one hundred small lakes, ranging in size from fifty feet across, to Lake Magdelene which was about one mile in length.  Besides citrus trees like orange, tangerine, kumquat, lime, and grapefruit trees; banana trees, palm trees, oak trees, oleanders, dense hedges, ornamental plants, ferns, and flowers filled these middle class and upper middle class neighborhoods.

By the time that I moved to Tampa in 1996, Hillsborough County had grown to nearly one million people.  At this moment in time, the character of Tampa was about to change significantly.  The area north of Tampa, the orange groves and small lakes, was almost completely developed.  These very traditional, beautiful, comfortable suburban neighborhoods that had been built from the 1960s through the 1990s were done.

An unbelievable and unprecedented amount of new development began in what was called “New Tampa”, to the north west, on the west side of Interstate 75.  On the west side of Interstate 75, there were thousands of acres of cattle pasture and swamp land, this became “New Tampa”.

Every housing development in New Tampa was a “gated community”.  You exited Interstate 75 onto Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, and drove west until you reached the entrance to the gated community in which you lived, turned in, and drove through the entrance past the guard house and gate.  This entrance was the only way in, and the only way out.  Each gated community was surrounded by a combination of walls, earth berms, and tall hedges.

Besides being protected behind the walls, earth berms, and gates, or you could look at it as being a prisoner, which was often the case when you tried to leave in the morning during rush hour, these gated communities featured “McMansion” architecture.  “McMansion” architecture is where cheap construction methods and cheap materials are used to create intentionally tall entry ways and high roof peaks, to make a home look enormous and expensive.

I believed that I had arrived in Tampa about twenty years too late.  On weekends when I was living on Lake Magdalene, I would ride my bicycle through these beautiful thirty year old neighborhoods, with quiet tree lined streets, natural lakes in the backyards, community tennis courts, and small orange groves here and there.

In these thirty year old neighborhoods, everyone knew everyone on that street, and the next streets over.  Husbands and wives bought one of these houses when they were in their thirties, and stayed there even after their kids moved out, they retired, and became old.

Some of these houses were large five bedroom, three bathroom houses, but most of these houses were modest and unpretentious.  Due to the economy and nature of Tampa, with large corporations, an international airport, McDill AFB, international sea port, and professional sports teams, neighbors would have been doctors, lawyers, engineers, airline pilots, military officers, ship captains, or professional athletes.

For adults in these neighborhoods, especially the wives, it would have been very enjoyable to be able to socialize with so many other adults with similar education, professional level, income level, interests, and values.  Parents in these neighborhoods did not have to worry very much about where their kids were, because all of the parents watched all of these kids.

After school, and in the summer, the kids in these neighborhoods, could have gone swimming, fishing, canoeing, water skiing, sailing, or played tennis.  I don’t think there would be any question that each of these kids was expecting and planning on going to college, because that is what all of the other kids did, and that is what everyone’s parents had done.  There would not have been aimless, depressed, self-destructive, drug addict, hoodlum kids around.

So I would have liked to have been either a kid or an adult living in one of these middle class neighborhoods in north Tampa from 1960 to 1990.  I think that I would have been happier as a kid or an adult living among peers with the same interests, values, beliefs, and goals, in this warm, safe, beautiful environment, doing things that I like to do.  But after 1990, no way, Tampa became too huge and overwhelming.

I want to point out, that these middle class adults who lived in Tampa from 1960 through 1990, with their education, professionalism, values, beliefs, interests, and goals, they caused Tampa to thrive, and double in size.  Though these adults created and loved their quiet, peaceful, happy, suburban neighborhoods on the north side of Tampa, the growth that they caused, changed the character of Tampa, to something that they would not have liked, the “gated communities” with the “McMansions”.  However, they would have acknowledged there was no way to be able to stop this, it was inevitable.

I also want to point out, that the kids who grew up in these beautiful, safe, fun, middle class neighborhoods on the north side of Tampa, where everyone’s parents went to college, and everyone was going to go to college, that these kids were so solidly grounded, that I think that they could do O.K. living anywhere.  What I mean is, I think these kids all turned out so well due to the constant positive influence of their peers and the other parents, that I think these kids as adults could cope with living in an unpleasant city or urban area.  ( I base this belief on my experiences attending the University of Florida on a campus with what was then 35,000 students, where some students thrived and some students could not cope, not because of intelligence level, but because of their backgrounds.)

When I was living in Flagstaff, Arizona, which I loved, I also felt that I arrived there twenty to thirty years too late.  To save time, I could say that everything about Flagstaff was wonderful.  However, beginning in about year 2000, real estate prices began to skyrocket.  And from what I have been told, growth has just continued non-stop to this day, making not just the price of real estate a problem, but now over development is a problem too.

The best, most enjoyable years to live in Flagstaff, were probably the 1960s through the 1990s.  The town, the forests, the mountains, the beauty, the lifestyle, the people, the weather were all so enjoyable, that this is what led to real estate skyrocketing, and the over development.  It was just inevitable.

Finally, getting to what this blog post was supposed to be about, “The Best Seven Years For Dickinson, North Dakota.”  From 2007 through 2014, there was an Oil Boom in Dickinson, North Dakota.  Though there was an “Exploration Boom” in North Dakota in the 1950s, and there was a “Gas Price Oil Boom” in North Dakota in the 1970s, this most recent oil boom has had the most significant and greatest impact on Dickinson.

How can I say that 2007 through 2014 was “The Best Seven Years For Dickinson” ?  To begin, prior to 2007, the average hourly wage in Dickinson was probably about $8 per hour, with no opportunity to work overtime.  There were very few job openings, and very few opportunities to get a higher paying job.  There was no way for most Dickinson residents to get ahead financially.  It would have been difficult for most Dickinson residents to even be able to save enough money to get out of Dickinson and try to move some place else.

In addition to there being mostly only low paying jobs, with very few opportunities to get a higher paying job, everything in Dickinson was controlled.  The wealthy families in Dickinson, and the influential families in Dickinson, controlled who got hired, who got fired, who got a promotion, who got demoted, who got recognition, who got blame, who got arrested, who was not prosecuted, who got a home loan, who got a car loan, who was evicted, and so forth.

When the Oil Boom began in 2007, it was almost like the Dickinson residents were released from bondage.  There was such a demand for workers in the oil field, that any able bodied person in Dickinson could get a job immediately for at least $16 per hour, which is about twice the average hourly pay of $8 per hour, plus, they might be allowed to work as much as 40 hours of overtime each week.

Some Dickinson residents, who were in their forties, who had always been kept down in Dickinson, always receiving low pay, never getting a promotion, never being able to get a better job, never being able to get a home loan, all of a sudden went from making $320 per week, to making $2,000 per week.  And for once, there was no wealthy or influential family in Dickinson who could stop them.

When the Oil Boom began, a graduating high school student who would not have been able to find a job in Dickinson, could now get a job earning as much as $1,400 per week working in the oil field.  A graduating high school student who would have had no car, and had to live with his parents, could now get a job working in the oil field, buy a very nice truck, and rent their own apartment.

Once the Oil Boom began in Dickinson, young couples were each able to obtain good employment, get married, and buy their own home.  Older couples were each able to obtain good employment, pay off their credit card debt, pay off their car loans, and pay off their home loans.

Due to families in Dickinson owning farms, or having retained mineral rights, oil well lease signing checks and revenue checks, began earning many families in Dickinson thousands or tens of thousands of dollars each month.  Farmers purchased completely new farm equipment, trucks, and travel trailers.  Some families dispersed this monthly oil revenue money to their children and grandchildren.  Many family members in Dickinson receiving oil revenue money purchased new vehicles, motorcycles, travel trailers, did home remodels, or paid for their kids to go to college.

Due to the amount of oil field work in and around Dickinson, many new large warehouse buildings were built, new office buildings were built, new restaurants were built, a new shopping center was built.  About five new hotels and fifteen new apartment buildings were built.  Local land owners, real estate agents, and construction companies made money on these new building projects.  Some local residents started and grew their own oil field service companies and construction companies.

During this Oil Boom, the City of Dickinson was able to build one of the nicest recreation centers in the World.  It has two indoor swimming pools, one outdoor swimming pool, skateboard park, ice skating rink, two indoor tennis courts, three indoor racketball courts, four indoor basketball courts, one volleyball court, indoor golf simulator, rock climbing wall, indoor track, cardiovascular equipment area, weight lifting gym, aerobics studios, and child day care.

The City of Dickinson was able to build a new Police Department, have a new water tower, pave many roads, widen roads, add stop lights, build a new school, and have a new County Fairground.

Would I have wanted to be in Dickinson from 2007 through 2014?  Yes, I would have, especially if I would have been a resident of Dickinson.  I was in Dickinson on and off from 2011 until now in 2018.

Unlike my story about getting to Tampa too late, where Tampa kept growing and growing, or my story about getting to Flagstaff too late where Flagstaff kept growing and growing, I got to Dickinson too late, because Dickinson is contracting.

In my stories about Tampa and Flagstaff, conditions in these towns were so good, that it was inevitable that they would grow.  In Dickinson, conditions are so bad, that it is seems inevitable that Dickinson will decline.

One of the reasons why I am writing this particular blog post, and the way that I am writing it, is because the people in Dickinson do not know that 2007 to 2014 will likely be the best years that Dickinson has ever had, or will have.  I began with the two stories about Tampa and Flagstaff, to explain the inevitability of places changing, even if you do not want them to go in the direction that they are going in.

In the case of Tampa, there was so much continued growth because of the regional economy, low cost of living, good climate, recreation, entertainment, night life, fine dining, shopping, professional football, professional baseball, professional hockey, international airport, international sea port, U.S. Central Command McDill AFB, and the University of South Florida.

In Flagstaff, the continued growth had nothing to do with the regional economy or cost of living, neither of which are very good, it was the beauty of the town, the Coconino National Forest, the snow skiing, trail hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, the clear blue skies during the winter, the nightlife, friendly downtown, diverse and well educated population, low crime and no riff-raff hoodlums.

In Dickinson, after the Oil Boom ended in 2015, many of the oil field jobs went away, many oil field workers returned to the states where they came from, and subsequently other jobs went away in other areas of the economy.  The amount of oil field jobs continue to decrease, as do other jobs in other areas of the economy in Dickinson.  As there are fewer jobs in Dickinson, and a greater supply of workers than demand for workers, we are seeing the wage rates steadily decrease in Dickinson.

As there are fewer oil field jobs, fewer jobs in other areas, and wage rates are decreasing, the old practices of nepotism, favoritism, discrimination, prejudice, and exclusion in hiring, promotion, lay offs, and home lending are beginning to emerge again in Dickinson.

The people in Dickinson are unfriendly, the Police in Dickinson are encouraging people to leave Dickinson, the Police in Dickinson are discouraging people from going out at night, the restaurants are not very good, the restaurant servers are not very nice, there is shortage of women, there is scarcity of attractive women, the real estate prices are high, the real estate prices are likely to fall, there is too much crime in Dickinson, little entertainment, few recreation activities, and it is cold and grey for about seven months of the year in Dickinson.

The population of Dickinson is decreasing, Dickinson is contracting, and this is just going to continue.  The people in Dickinson refuse to see this or acknowledge this.  Some people believe the Oil Boom will come back.

In order for Dickinson to not contract, Dickinson would have to be a place where people would want to move, and stay.  Here are some changes that would be needed:

  • The Police in Dickinson need to find a way to stop the crime and drug dealing in Dickinson, without following, surveilling, and stopping non-criminal, law abiding people.
  • The Police in Dickinson need to find a way to allow adults to go out to restaurants and sports bars at night to socialize, without following, surveilling, and stopping them on their way home.
  • The people in Dickinson need to stop being mean and nasty to other people in general, and to cease nepotism, favoritism, prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion in hiring, firing, promotion, and bank lending.
  • The people in Dickinson need to stop being out-of-their minds as far as real estate prices in Dickinson.
  • The banks in Dickinson need to grant home loans to people who demonstrate that they can make the mortgage payments.
  • The restaurants in Dickinson need to stop using jaded, rough, mean drug addict women as servers, especially the ones from Spokane, Seattle, and Coeur D’Alene.
  • Dickinson needs to be a city that promotes health, such as hygiene, exercise, and fitness, and discourages smoking, tobacco, illegal drugs, over use of alcohol, and over eating.
  • Dickinson needs to be a city that promotes education, awareness, and spirituality, and discourages ignorance, hate, and Catholicism.
  • Dickinson needs to be a city that encourages women to be beautiful and friendly, and discourages women from being ugly, glaring, and scowling.
  • Dickinson might need to have a strip bar, just so men can see what women are supposed to look like, maybe they have never seen one, or they have forgotten what they look like.
  • Dickinson needs to have a good Italian restaurant.