Vision West

North Dakota

Grant type: 2011 Regional Planning (category 1)

Grant Amount: $1,500,000

Lead Organization: Vision West North Dakota


Western North Dakota’s economy has been agriculturally based since Texas cattle herds were driven to the northern plains in the early 1880s. The cattle boom lasted less than a decade before the vagaries of the weather and eastern markets doomed the industry. The next boom was fueled by the influx of homesteaders during the first decade of the 20th century, but was busted by the crash of 1929 and drought of the 1930s. North Dakota’s population continued to decline through seven decades until the energy boom of the past eight years. Modern developments in oil and gas drilling have opened up the region to an explosion in fossil fuel exploration that has been termed the “Bakken Boom.” This has brought industry, jobs and new residents to the region at an unprec- edented pace (the state’s population has reached an all-time high of 750,000).

The shale oil boom that has been driving the state’s phenomenal growth is now contracting due to world markets, regulations and transportation issues, and the people and institutions of western North Dakota will again bear the brunt of circumstance. In order to insulate themselves from the cycle of boom and bust often associated with economies reliant on natural resources, Western North Dakota must diversify their economy – moving away from dependence on natural resources of soil, oil and coal. They must increase the quality and quantity of public services, housing, and transportation in order to attract companies and workers that will drive economic   diversification.

In many ways, the influx of wealth and population has been a boon to the region, but communities are struggling to manage all of the impacts of such sudden growth. Housing and childcare facilities are in short supply, and the heavy truck traffic to and from drilling platforms has put pressure on a roads that were never meant for such volume. Despite the impacts of this growth, there is very limited funding available to local   governments.


The Vision West ND Project focused on economic development planning in the 19 county region. To better under- stand the ability of each county to support development and protect quality of life, Vision West ND completed 18 county and four tribal plans. Each plan identified areas within the region that could sustain development, infra- structure and amenities needed to support such growth.

Drawing on input from hundreds of residents through these local planning processes, Vision West ND crafted      a regional plan that brought together issues identified by participants and the available research, focusing on elements best addressed on a regional basis. In addition to the regional success stories, local communities built childcare facilities, ambulance halls, and affordable housing units. Hospital beds were expanded, roads were improved, and transportation bypasses are in the works.

The Vision West project grant period has ended, but those involved in economic development, public admin- istration, finance, health care, and transportation are forming a new consortium in an effort to implement the recommendations of the Vision West plan. Initial funding for the new organization has been secured from one    of the original planning project members. Another member of the consortium sponsored a grant to the State of North Dakota in an effort to secure additional funding. The new consortium has drafted bylaws and established operating, endorsement and membership procedures. Three task forces – housing, childcare and transportation have been formed.


  • Identifying and prioritizing the risks posed by climate change.
  • Helping farmers and ranchers to anticipate and cope with changing patterns in precipitation, temperature and extreme
  • Navigating the regulatory impacts of new climate and carbon policies particularly for the oil and gas
  • Managing risk to the region’s transportation infrastructure. Due to the nature of the region’s surface geol- ogy, road beds are vulnerable to heavy rain and require frequent maintenance.
  • Finding effective ways to communicate, discuss and make progress on climate issues, risk and resilience.


Through Vision West efforts:

  • 23 local economic development strategic plans were completed, including the 18 county-level economic development plans and those for highly impacted areas and tribal communities. All local plans have been approved by each county, city, or tribal governing
  • 26 municipal infrastructure needs assessments were completed and have been delivered to the
  • Training workshops on planning and zoning were conducted.
  • Participants in the local strategic planning process were invited to apply for funding support to develop architectural renderings for a specific local project. 10 project schematics were completed.