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Divide County, North Dakota—
Taking Charge of a Bright Future

—Ted Natt, Community Success Journalist

It used to be said that people would have to drive to the end of the earth in order to find Divide County, North Dakota.

Today, Divide County feels like it is the center of the universe.

Situated near the middle of the Bakken Oil Patch, Divide County and its communities of Crosby, Noonan and Fortuna are looking at explosive growth – perhaps an immediate tripling of its countywide population of some 2,000 people. How its communities grow and how Divide County maintains its quality of life are at the heart of a strategic plan developed with the help of Building Communities, an economic development strategic planning firm. “Basically, we’ve just been on the edge of the oil boom, but now it’s right here. Everybody is discovering us,” says KayCee Lindsey, community development director for Divide County and the city of Crosby.

Brian Cole, president of Building Communities, says the strategic planning process came at a perfect time for Divide County to come to grips with the looming growth. “The plan gives the county a focused to-do list that will help diversify the economy and preserve its quality of life,” Cole says. “Divide County has a unique juxtaposition because it is so close to the oil boom and yet is very rural.”

In fact, the county is bordered by Canada to the north and Montana to the west.  “What stood out for me is they really have a sense of isolation. The border with Canada creates a northern wall for them,” Cole says. “But they’re definitely being impacted by the oil boom and know that standing still and remaining isolated are not options.” Already roads are crumbling, the county water system needs expansion, housing and day care are inadequate, and the county’s institutions are not functioning as well as Lindsey and other stakeholders would like.  “I don’t know if we’ll ever have enough housing,” Lindsey says.

Crosby officials took an important step, however, when they bought 233 acres outside the city to sell to residential developers “We’ve got room to grow,” Lindsey says, “but we’re requiring that the developers pay for the infrastructure.”

Cole believes the city’s decision to buy the land will address the housing issue, so he is now more concerned with solving the day care dilemma. “I never before fathomed that day care would be such a significant issue in the realm of economic development,” says Cole, who has worked in the field for more than two decades.
He adds that the one-two punch of inadequate housing and day care is preventing families from moving to Divide County.

“Those two issues need to be resolved because Divide County has a real desire to welcome new residents,” Cole says. “Fortunately, it is part of 19-county coalition called Vision West N.D. that has formed a task force to develop a regional solution to the day care issue. “I have no doubt that the citizens of Divide County will play an integral role in determining the solution because the people there have a real commitment to being generous and caring.”
That was evident by the stakeholders Lindsey recruited for the strategic planning process. “The people on our Strategic Planning Committee already do 45 other things,” she says. “A lot of them have been taxed for time lately, but small communities like ours rely on the same pool of volunteers and they have stepped up to move Divide County forward.”

Lindsey says the oil boom has already brought between 1,000 and 2,000 new residents to the county. “Now, the opportunities are here for them to get a job,” she says. “We’ve had 10 oil rigs in constant operation since August 2010 and the energy companies want to ramp it up to 15 to 20.” The 10 strategies selected by Divide County during the Building Communities planning process focus on infrastructure issues, safety concerns and initiatives to maintain quality of life. “It was interesting to see everyone’s answers and how they rated certain strategies,” Lindsey says. “This is our first strategic plan, so people weren’t biased by comparing their answers to a previous plan.”

The strategies selected to address safety concerns centered on street crossings, developing neighborhood watch groups due to an increase in crime, and 911 callbacks. For example, there are currently no stoplights in the county, despite the increase in traffic. “While this may not always be the case, we’ve been putting in a lot more stop signs,” Lindsey says with a laugh. “We all want Divide County to be a place where our children are safe, our families are strong and our future is secure.”

Cole commended Lindsey for “building a committee with great volunteers.” “The discussion around quality-of-life issues was very significant,” Cole says. “There is a sense of small-town Americana in Divide County that the stakeholders want to preserve while embracing new residents.” Still, Lindsey says it’s hard for her to determine what the future holds for Divide County. “Next year, we could be back to nothing or see 50 times more growth,” she says. “There are a lot of unknowns. That’s kind of a hard thing to accept.”

But Lindsey feels much better about tackling the issues after working with Building Communities.  “Overall, it was a good experience,” she says. “I think it was exciting to get things in order and move towards a plan because we’ve pretty much got everybody on the same page.”  Now, people will know it’s worth driving to the end of the earth to get to Divide County.


©2017 Building Communities, Inc.