Modeling Employment, Housing, and Population in Western North Dakota: The Case of Dickinson

Communities in western North Dakota are struggling to manage the unprecedented growth in employment associated with the current oil boom. The city of Dickinson is undergoing a comprehensive plan to develop policies, strategies, and solutions for providing infrastructure, transportation, housing, and public services as a result of the new conditions brought on by oil field development. This study was designed to provide input into the city’s comprehensive planning effort. Employment projections for the Dickinson trade area included future changes to employment in existing industries, future direct employment in the petroleum sector, and potential secondary employment associated with changes in direct employment in the petroleum industry. To frame the context and scope of future oil field development, perceptions and opinions on current and expected development in the Williston Basin were solicited from industry leaders and government representatives with knowledge of the industry. Those opinions and perceptions provided the basis for creating two development scenarios based on 32,000 wells in the Bakken/Three Forks formations in North Dakota by 2036. Near-term growth in employment in the Dickinson trade area was substantial in the slow and rapid development scenarios. However, long-term employment dynamics differed. Those differences were reflected in the level of temporary employment and changes in permanent employment over the 25-year period. The slow development scenario produced a set of employment dynamics much more conducive to an orderly and sustained expansion. By contrast, the rapid development scenario indicated continued rapid growth in employment over the next decade. Further into the rapid scenario timeline, assumptions on oil field development produced a strong contraction in employment upon completion of well drilling which results in an employment change reminiscent of boom-bust resource development. Neither scenario was modeled as a prediction, but rather a potential possibility. Two separate approaches were used to estimate future population for the city of Dickinson. One approach used current and planned build-out rates for future housing developments within the current city limits, occupancy rates in motels and other non-traditional housing arrangements, crew camps, lodging at work sites, and existing traditional Census population figures to produce an estimate of service population. Based on that approach, the city will reach a physical maximum service population of approximately 35,000 upon completion of all current and proposed projects (i.e., proposed projects as of early 2012). When all of the planned developments are build-out additional growth beyond that level will be dependent on how the city reacts to the demand for additional housing. Additional growth will require additional annexations. A second approach to estimating future population used projections of regional employment in all industries to generate estimates of regional housing demand. Future housing demand in the region was estimated separately for permanent and total (permanent and temporary jobs) workforce. Permanent workforce produced housing needs associated with longvi term employment and would produce population estimates consistent with the Census. Total workforce (permanent and temporary workers) was used to produce estimates of future housing demand that were used to estimate service populations. Future housing demand was allocated among the region’s counties based on historic distributions of housing within the region. The allocation process was largely driven by the need to address mobility of the petroleum sector workforce. Petroleum sector workers may not necessarily reside where they work or be employed where they reside. Therefore, a direct correlation between place of employment and place of residence could not be used to allocate regional housing demand. Future housing demand in each county was divided into homes, twin homes, and apartments (i.e., R1, R2, and R3 housing) and assigned occupancy rates by housing type by county based on historical data. Information on the expected mix of housing in future housing developments was used to adjust the future distribution of single family houses, twin homes, and apartments within the trade area counties. The process produced county-level estimates of permanent population and service population over the 25-year period. Assuming all permanent housing needs are met within the region, an average of the slow and rapid development scenarios revealed that the Dickinson trade area permanent population could approach 57,000 in 25 years. If temporary employment is included, trade area service population could peak near 64,000 people around 2020. Two levels of future housing demand within the city in Dickinson were considered. First, housing demand was modeled at a rate consistent with Dickinson’s historic share of regional housing, approximately 50 percent. A second scenario assumed the city would supply 70 percent of the regional housing supply. The second scenario was based on the premise that other cities and communities in the region would not be able to meet future housing demand proportionate to their historical levels. Housing demand for a permanent workforce was projected to be 72 percent to 140 percent above the 2010 Census estimate of housing units in the city of Dickinson, depending upon the share of regional housing units supplied by Dickinson. When housing demand included housing for the temporary workforce, housing demand peaked at 95 to 173 percent of the 2010 Census estimate of housing units in Dickinson 10 to 12 years into the planning period. Future permanent population in the city of Dickinson could approach 30,000 in 15 years assuming 50 percent of regional housing demand. If that ratio were to change based on the assumption that smaller communities in the trade area were either unwilling or unable to maintain their historic housing supply and Dickinson now supplied 70 percent of the regional housing demand, future permanent population was estimated to approach 40,000 in 15 years. When temporary employment is included in the population estimates, the city of Dickinson could see a service population between 34,000 to 47,000 in 10 years depending upon the share of regional temporary housing demand supplied by the city. Aside from detailed estimates of future employment, housing, and population, a number of insights were gained regarding current and expected future activity in the Dickinson trade area. ● Employment • Employment in the petroleum sector will remain high, and there are strong indications that increases in direct employment could occur in the near term. • Near-term employment drivers are associated with drilling and fracing activity in the Bakken/Three Forks formations. • Longer-term employment drivers are associated with oil field service and will be a direct function of the number of wells operating in the state. •Wildcards in the long-term employment may include development of other shale formations (e.g., Tyler formation). •Long-term predictions of employment are difficult. ◦ The industry has substantial incentives to reduce current labor requirements. ◦ Future use of new technologies and techniques are likely to be a factor in employment requirements. ◦ Macro-economic factors affecting oil field development rates and the future desirability of the industry to pursue opportunities in shale oil formations in ND are difficult to predict. ◦ Therefore, a host of factors make concise long-range estimates impossible. The best antidote for long-term uncertainty is to shorten the time between assessments and make the process of forecasting more iterative. ● Housing • There is substantial demand for housing in the Dickinson trade area. • Current build-out rates for water, sewer, and housing are not likely to result in overbuilding of infrastructure within the city of Dickinson. • Despite enormous demand for housing, it is not unlimited. The city must carefully plan how it will respond to the demand as overbuilding can result in equally serious ramifications. ◦ Too much housing is likely to result in high vacancy rates, and a depressed housing market. ◦ Too little housing drives up values and rents and creates additional problems for elderly and other fixed income residents. • Communities’ response to the housing issue must include continual monitoring and periodic re-assessment to avoid building to peak demand. ● Workforce Characteristics • Workers in the petroleum sector are far more mobile than previously thought. • A good understanding of workforce characteristics is lacking. viii • Planning efforts at both the local and state level would benefit from a better understanding of demographic profiles, anticipated work schedules, and likelihood/willingness of existing workforce to become North Dakota residents. • Antidotal evidence (airline boardings, real estate purchases) suggests that workers are seeking housing outside of the oil fields, and using work schedules that allow them to work in ND but maintain their home residence elsewhere in the state or outside of ND. • A mobile workforce responsive to housing availability has substantial implications for level of secondary employment–implications for support businesses, services, and commercial activity. ● Population • Local communities must include estimates of service population when planning for delivery of public services. • The duration and intensity of service population will largely be reflective of the city’s policy regarding housing supply and the future rates of development within the oil field.

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Agribusiness and Applied Economics Report No.

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-26

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