Jon Godfread: Don't Make Knee-Jerk Decisions On Man Camps

As the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, we don’t often get involved in many local decisions; rather we maintain our focus on statewide policy issues. However, recent action by the Williston City Commission regarding workforce housing is so contrary to the free enterprise system, we feel we must weigh in. This decision will negatively impact the free enterprise system and Williston’s economy and we feel it is important to outline our concerns.

The great virtue of the free enterprise system is that it forces businesses to continuously meet the demands of the market. New products, new enterprises, and new industry sectors are often created to meet ever changing demands of businesses and consumers. Williston is a prime example of the market at work; products and services are being introduced in the Williston area that have never been seen or thought of before because they are meeting the demands of the market. It’s natural that some existing businesses would prefer to keep their competitors out of the way and attempt to introduce barriers for niche providers. We believe this is really what’s behind the push to end workforce housing in Williston.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]It’s natural that some existing businesses would prefer to keep their competitors out of the way and attempt to introduce barriers for niche providers. We believe this is really what’s behind the push to end workforce housing in Williston.[/mks_pullquote]

Workforce housing in North Dakota provides a service and meets a need for many businesses and industries in, and around, the Williston areaa need that cannot be met by other housing options. The industry, most notably oil and gas service companies, rely on crew camps to provide short-term, rotational housing to their workers that is safe, secure, and clean. This controlled environment is drug and alcohol free, has meal services and often provides roundtrip transportation to and from the worksite. Other housing options cannot provide this level of convenience and control that the industry desires. The market for this housing is currently being met by what we might term “full-service” crew camps. The Williston City Commission’s recent action eliminates this option after July of 2016, long before market forces have determined it is no longer needed.

Rotational workforce housing is aimed at meeting the needs of short-term and transient workforce that are critical to the industries that are driving our economy. These rotational employees go where the work is and housing follows suit. Communities, businesses, and employees have come to rely on the consistent service provided by high quality, rotational workforce housing. This is all accomplished without crashing the housing or rental markets.

These local crew camps are necessary to a properly functioning local economy with the kinds of economic drivers that exist in Williston and Bakken region. To arbitrarily, and unilaterally, remove this type of workforce housing in the midst of its useful purpose is risky to Williston’s economy. More importantly, it’s harmful to the businesses and industries that are so vital to regional economy.

Speaking specifically of one of the reputable providers of workforce housing, Target Logistics has been a good partner for the Chamber, North Dakota, and for Williston. Clearly, there’s still a demand and compelling proof points to the need for short-term, rotational housing solutions. Target Logistics is among the best providers of workforce housing, and continues to demonstrate its commitment to the community and to providing a higher, premium level of service that exceeds other workforce housing solutions. There are “man camps,” and then there’s Target Logistics.

If the City Commission feels the need to interfere with the market, a more appropriate approach would be set high standards and define this type of rotational housing, to ensure the best providers are able to continue providing much needed housing solutions in the Williston area. Banning workforce housing solutions altogether and setting an arbitrary “drop dead” date to shut them down is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Most importantly, in North Dakota the free enterprise system is alive and well, and the communities in western North Dakota are among the greatest benefactors of this great system. Problems arise, solutions are found, but in the end, it’s the spirit of our free enterprise system, based on market forces, that has turned North Dakota from a once fading economy into an economic driver for our nation. We are still the envy of the nation and Williston is in the heart of it all.

We encourage the Williston City Commission to think carefully about its recent, knee-jerk, decision to close workforce housing and to work with industry to find solutions that allow rotational workforce housing to continue serving the Williston market.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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