In December 2011, Joe Ryan, founder and president of property development firm Oppidan, took a trip that would open up great opportunities for his company in an area in serious need of development: the Bakken Shale region in North Dakota.

The Bakken Shale play covers an estimated 200,000 square miles, extending its reach into Eastern Montana and parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada. Although oil in the area was discovered in 1951, it was the development of new extraction techniques 10 years ago it raised production rates and placed North Dakota’s oil production second only to Texas.

“We had read a lot about the Bakken, so a couple of people in the office and I went out there and looked at what was happening in the area,” Ryan recalls. “We soon realized that there was a lot going on and, after doing thorough research, we realized that the growth in the area was there to stay and will become a significant part of our future as a country.”

The boom in oil and gas exploration in the Bakken has rapidly increased the region’s population in the past five years however, infrastructure needed to accommodate the increased population has not been able to keep pace with the growth.

Where other companies had failed to deliver successful results, Oppidan was able to meet and exceed its clients’ expectations thanks to a combination of extensive experience, the right workforce and sheer determination. “There were a lot of companies that went to the Bakken saying they could build the infrastructure needed, only to find out they couldn’t; they either didn’t have the dollars, the expertise or the gumption to finish the projects,” Ryan explains. “We went there and we knew what we were doing because we had done it in 26 states before, so we put shovel to the ground and showed the clients that we could deliver. We prevailed because we were never going to quit.”

Growing against the odds
In a small area where everybody knows each other, reputation is an invaluable asset. “As we started delivering, going vertical and owning some land, people started believing in us,” Ryan says. “The oil companies started talking to us and other users came to us to help them implement their projects.”

Financing the projects was a challenge that Oppidan was prepared to face. “We had to educate people – like we had educated ourselves – and make them understand that this [growth] was going to continue for a long time,” Ryan explains. “Once people started hearing from other groups that were working with us, we got some traction and financing fell into place.”

The second challenge Oppidan faced was construction workforce availability, and again the company’s experience helped it overcome that obstacle. “We’ve developed a following in the construction business over the last 24 years,” Ryan says, “so we were able to figure out that part [by] bringing people from Minnesota to work in our projects.”

Building Communities
Ryan knew that for the economy in the Bakken to continue thriving, some basic services were needed. “The area needs to become more livable, it has to become family oriented, so it needs living and shopping options, entertainment options, recreation options,” he says. “It needs all those things to make it a livable community.”

The company’s development in Watford, N.D., consists of 120,000 square feet of commercial, retail, restaurant and office space, including a location for Oppidan’s offices. The center, scheduled to be opened in July, will include a Cash Wise Foods, ALCO, Happy Rice Buffet, Red Wing Shoes and Z Wireless, among others. To further support the community, Oppidan has also invested $10,000 to help fund the Wolf Pup Daycare Center, a state-of-the-art child care facility that will be located in the new affordable housing community of Wolf Run Village and which will provide daycare services for up to 200 children. “We want to make sure to sustain these communities,” Ryan says. “If you don’t have proper daycare centers, the workforce can’t function. We are always designing with that concept in mind.”

Oppidan is also building a number of multifamily residential complexes in Williston, Watford City and other key towns in the Bakken. The developments consist of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments close to urban areas. “We will have two apartment buildings in Williston and one in Watford City by the summer of 2013,” Ryan says. “We have 114 apartment units that are going to be completed by then, and we’re going to build a couple of hundred more in the next year.”

Oppidan – like the oil and gas activity in the Bakken – is there to stay. “What sets us apart is that we’re in it for the long run,” Ryan says. “We’re not there for a quick profit; we truly want to help the communities build a lifestyle and assist in this world event that is going on in North Dakota.” He notes that the company’s future projects in Minot, Stanley, Tioga and Dickinson will cover a variety of sectors and needs, from recreational and retail facilities to municipal infrastructure.