Crosby feels ripple effect of oil activity

CROSBY Tim Gjovig more than doubled the size of his Hardware Hank store in Crosby when he rebuilt to accommodate the business volume that he was seeing. Now in his new building for just over a year, he’s already wishing the store was bigger.

“There’s just so much going on around here,” said Gjovig, whose store is experiencing a demand for everything from appliances for new homes to household supplies for temporary residents in campers. The store also added a roughneck hardware line to serve the oil fields that have been behind the uptick in activity.

“It’s been nice for Crosby,” Gjovig said of being on the edge of the oil boom. “It’s been a more controlled growth. We have definitely had growing pains, but it’s easier to keep up with.”

“We are growing slowly, but we are growing,” Mayor Les Bakken said.

In response to the growth, the City of Crosby is erecting a new water tower, putting in new water lines and doing work on its lagoon.The city has benefited from $9 million in oil impact grants in the past two years to help fund the projects, Bakken said.

The city bought property along North Dakota Highway 5 to use to encourage commercial and residential development. Due to the interest from businesses, the city later rezoned more of the land to commercial. Infrastructure work still is being completed, but expected commercial uses include office buildings, a bank, dollar store, furniture warehouse, auto parts store, laundromat, restaurants and an oil service company. Some businesses would be relocations or branches of existing businesses while others would be new enterprises.

KayCee Lindsey, community development director, said the city has reserved a portion of the property for a child-care facility. The town’s existing child-care operation has about 50 children and needs more space, she said. The new building under consideration would accommodate up to 125 children.

Having available child care is critical in attracting families to the community as well as in drawing more people into employment to ease the town’s worker shortage, Lindsey said.

“A lot of people would like to work but they can’t find day care,” she said.

Lindsey said the community has sourced about $500,000 toward the $2.5 million project so far. The city also has discussed a longer range goal to build a new fire and ambulance facility at the highway location.

A developer has proposed a residential project behind the commercial property that would include single-family homes and senior housing. The senior housing would fill a gap that exists for people wanting to move into more senior-friendly housing but not ready for assisted living, Lindsey said.

Developers have been building multi-family housing, and more units are planned, but Bakken and Lindsey said much of the construction isn’t the affordable housing that is most in demand.

In 2012, Crosby opened the state’s first new affordable housing funded through the Housing Incentive Fund established by the Legislature in 2011. The project was an effort of the local Economic Development Council and a group of investors. However, that affordable housing project alone hasn’t meet the need.

Owners of the Guardian Inn, a local hotel, and the St. Luke’s Community Foundation both are considering investing in housing projects to increase affordable options for employees. The foundation has received $1 million through the Housing Incentive Fund to proceed with a 24-plex for hospital workers.

The Guardian Inn, which opened in 2011 and expanded in 2012, also recently broke ground for a lounge, restaurant and off-sale liquor store.

The community hopes to finish construction on a new recreation center this winter.

The building will replace a 50-year-old building with a new facility offering a curling rink next to a lower-level hockey rink with first-floor access to seating. The facility includes a community room and space for park and recreation offices. The current construction is the first phase of a larger project that would eventually include a fitness center, space for the gymnastics club and an indoor pool.

“It is well built not fancy, but it will be there a long time,” said curling and hockey club member Gerald Brady.

Brady said local fundraising generated about $1.5 million for the first phase. The City of Crosby contributed another $500,000. Voters also approved a sales tax to support debt reduction and operation of the facility.

The demand on recreational and fitness facilities has increased with the 600 new residents that the city roughly estimates have been added to the official 2010 census of 1,070 people. The school population rose nearly 130 students in three years, forcing the school to redirect the use of some of its space to create more classrooms, Lindsey said.

The impact of more people in the region is felt up and down Main Street.

Pam Urvand, owner of Crafts 4-U, added merchandise that attracts an oil-field clientele to her business, which sells clothing and home decor and does embroidery and silkscreening. But she said business has been good across the board.

“I have expanded a lot of my lines,” she said.

Don Garbel, owner of Garbel’s Furniture & Flooring, said new customers buying for hotels or worker camps has added a new aspect to his business. Oil prosperity also has put more money in the hands of some local residents, who are spending it on their homes. It’s particularly created a huge demand in flooring.

“We are swamped. We are way behind on that. Finding help is a problem, but we have been pretty lucky. We have good people working for us,” Garbel said. The store has added three employees in the past few years.

The community expects oil activity to eventually move closer, bringing more change with it. But for now, the predominant sentiment is that Crosby is fortunate to be living on the fringe, enjoying the ripple effect of the oil industry.

“We have a lot of growth,” Garbel said, “but it’s manageable.”