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Published March 09 2012

Traill County tells west that small-town North Dakota is still around

HILLSBORO, N.D. - Wade Trulson has seen a lot of change for a 36-year-old farmer who lives just a couple of miles from the home where he grew up.

“I’m just sitting here right now looking out the window watching traffic go by on Highway 2,” said Trulson, who lives near Stanley. “It’s crazy.”

The traffic is just part of what the oil boom has brought to western North Dakota. While there have been economic benefits, some feel less safe. Others struggle with the increased cost of living. And the serenity of rural life has taken a hit.

But the Hillsboro-based Traill County Economic Development Commission has a message for residents struggling with what’s going on in the Oil Patch: Small-town North Dakota life is still alive and well.

The Traill County EDC kicked off a marketing campaign March 1 that’s aimed at drawing in residents who face hardships or who are just dissatisfied with life in the Oil Patch. The tag line for the campaign is simple: “Housing. Jobs. Family Life.”

The EDC believes it has a pretty good deal to offer new residents. Traill County – which is home to Hillsboro, Mayville, Buxton and Blanchard among other cities – sees itself as strategically located between Fargo and Grand Forks. Leaders tout housing and job availability, and a vibrant community life.

“It’s those things that kind of make you feel warm and fuzzy about your small town,” said Melissa Beach, Traill County EDC executive director. “It’s the parades in the summer. It’s the kids and their homecoming activities in the fall, ... and it’s the community rallying around the local schools.”

Most cities in Traill County, as well as Mayville State University, have pitched in on the project, which includes more than 250 classified ads.

“A lot of times (the ad) starts with a question. And it asks them, ‘Is it time to move?’ You know. ‘Is your lifestyle changing?’ ” Beach said. “Just those questions that start to spur your mind and spur some deep thinking.”

EDC officials aim to direct people to the group’s website – www.welcome

traill.com – where they can get information on jobs, housing, child care and more. The ultimate goal, of course, is bringing people to the county.

The campaign goes for 90 days, but the EDC says it could be extended if it’s successful. The effort doesn’t target any specific age demographic.

“We’re looking for anybody that’s impacted either financially or just their lifestyle or their culture” by the oil industry,” Beach said.

The effort seems to be attracting some attention. Up to March 6, there were already more hits on the county’s website than it gets in a typical month. There has also been some direct contact with EDC leaders.

“One just said, ‘You know what, we’re sick of it here, and we own a business, and we’re considering moving,’ ” Beach said. “‘Do you have land available for us to build and to maybe start our business?’ ”

Despite its efforts to tap into discontent, the EDC hopes western residents don’t see the campaign as something negative. Beach wants people on the other end of the state to see it as an effort to partner with them rather than to siphon off their people.

“It’s just kind of a relief valve when you have fewer people to take care of,” Beach said.

Gail Mooney, EDC board member and chairwoman of the Traill County Commission, said the campaign isn’t intended to be “adversarial” or to steal human resources away. As she sees it, some people won’t be comfortable with the lifestyle in the west; that’s just the reality of the situation.

“People are going to start considering what’s going to work in their lives,” Mooney said. If they can have people consider staying in North Dakota rather than looking outside the state for a new home, “everyone gains” from that.

The campaign is about “trying to keep our North Dakota people here in North Dakota.”

For his part, Trulson isn’t bothered by the campaign.

“I think that’s a great option to have,” he said. “I applaud it.”

And even though he’s not yet ready to leave his lifelong home, getting back to the pre-boom lifestyle certainly has its appeal.

“You know, there’s just days where you go, ‘I wish I really could move to even just South Dakota somewhere only a couple of hours away to get back to that serenity.’”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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