Vision West: Leading, Educating, and Collaborating to Mobilize the 19 Western North Dakota Counties Towards Resilience and Prosperity
Deb Nelson is the administrator of the Vision West ND Consortium, which represents the 19 oil and gas producing counties in western North Dakota. Vision West ND’s goal is to implement the Regional Sustainability Plan for western North Dakota. Deb is founder and president of DLN Consulting Inc. She specializes in strategic planning, board development and management, and community organization for rural nonprofit organizations and government agencies in North Dakota and several surrounding states. She has served as a lecturer and presenter at various national, state, and local conferences. She began her career as an educator, and has a strong educational background with over 25 years of extensive experience with credentials in public relations and program management. Deb has also served as the principal administrator for several research-based studies for state and federal agencies. She and her husband Ken, are long-time residents of Dickinson. They have two grown sons who both live in North Dakota.
The Vision West ND project, which covers the 19 counties and Fort Berthold Reservation affected by oil and gas production in western North Dakota, is setting the stage for economic sustainability. Through strategic planning sessions, community leaders and citizens have identified strategies most likely to succeed in the region. The primary goals of the project are to address immediate, short-term needs to meet growth management challenges and establish a diversified economy in the future through the development of local and regional strategic plans. It is Vision West ND’s mission to lead, educate, and collaborate to mobilize the 19 western North Dakota counties toward a resilient and prosperous quality of life for all residents.
The pace and level of impact from the rapidly expanding oil industry started with North Dakota’s northern counties (the Bakken Region extends west into Montana and north into Canada), and is moving south. A second wave of oil-related investment and growth is anticipated from the Three Forks and Tyler Formations. Small communities are especially struggling with the impact of this development. The timing and focus of the planning activities, financed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Substantiality Planning Grant and the ND Energy Infrastructure and Impact Grant Fund programs, as well as in-kind contributions, has been critical for western North Dakota.
Vision West ND began with a “boots on the ground” focus in February 2012 with the kickoff of 23 Local Planning Sessions. Plan Sessions for each county were formed using a local steering committee consisting of local leaders from the public and private sectors. Public meetings to engage local citizens in the process were key to the Planning Session success. The local Planning Sessions were completed by the fall of 2013. As of January 2015 Vision West ND is funding by North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties and the ND Department of Trust Lands.
Vision West ND is all about helping communities and counties in the western energy impacted areas and bring about economic diversification and stabilization, not only now during the downturn in oil and agricultural industries, but well into the future. One of the most important pieces of the Vision West ND consortium and administrative team’s mission is to get people thinking about economic diversification. To do this, the Vision West ND consortium and administrative team provide people with good, solid, reputable data and resources to start these conversations and plans. One great resource for community planning and development is the data offered by ND Compass.
Vision West ND has become very interested in helping consortium constituents plan and learn new methods to enhance economic diversification throughout the region. With the downturn not only in oil, but also in the agricultural industry, our small western North Dakota communities are beginning to concentrate on what they can do to keep their communities vibrant and sustainable. Two specific areas of concentration that are of interest to many areas are the concepts of “going local” and reducing “food desert” areas.
ND Compass has wonderful access to some eye-opening data about areas of North Dakota where the population has low access to grocery stores. Not only were we able to gather information for the counties’ overall population, but we were also able to find information on low access by age, by income, by households without vehicles, and by metro/micropolitan areas. All three of the hub cities in the Vision West ND region – Minot, Williston, and Dickinson – were represented as micropolitan areas. Data such as this will help us continue to be strong contenders for grant dollars in support of Vision West ND’s continuing work with economic diversification in the agricultural sector.
Also of great interest was the data we were able to gather demonstrating job loss in our counties. Job loss is one of the qualifying factors for Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants. Since the “shale play” (i.e., rock formations consisting of consolidated mud or clay that contain significant accumulations of natural gas) began in the Bakken, it has been very difficult for any of the western 19 counties to qualify for EDA grants. We all knew that jobs have been steadily declining in the region since the downturn began, but we did not have good, quality data to support what we knew. So, once again we turned to ND Compass’ data and information, and once again, ND Compass came through for Vision West ND.
Having quality and unbiased data and information to start conversations and plan for the future is vital for the 19 counties affected by oil and gas production in western North Dakota to meet the needs of communities and manage challenges associated. Vision West ND supports livability and environmental objectives and hopes to help establish diversified economies into the future for the impacted counties.
The Vision West ND consortium is open to any jurisdiction, organization, agency, business, or person that is interested in supporting the efforts of the people in western North Dakota to continue to keep the region a vital place to live and work. Because we know that the industry in western North Dakota enhances the entire state, we believe that what is good for western North Dakota is good for North Dakota. For additional information on Vision West ND’s work, please visit www.visionwestnd.com.