The energy economy is what drives the Bismarck–Mandan area, which straddles the Missouri River in south-central North Dakota. Long a center of coal mining and oil refining, the cities are experiencing some new growth thanks to increasing national interest in upping domestic oil production and developing new forms of energy, like wind farms and biofuels. No wonder Forbes ranked the pair No. 2 on its 2007 list of best smaller metros for business and careers.

But energy comes at a price. In 1985, Mandan discovered a 3-million-gallon petroleum-product plume under the central business district. After years of wrangling, BNSF Railway, which was at fault for the plume, paid the city more than $30 million in cash and real estate. Mandan undertook a $17 million remediation operation, and individual businesses invested almost $4.5 million in property improvements. Today, about $23 million in downtown redevelopment is on the drawing board. “Mandan is beginning to believe in itself again,” says lifelong resident Geris Hopfauf, vice president of Hopfauf Custom Builders.

Economic growth and new development are drawing people to the region, the nation's 72nd fastest growing metropolitan area. “Office space is reasonably priced, [development] incentives exist, taxes are relatively reasonable, and the infrastructure is good for technology,” says James Devine of J2 Studio Architecture + Design. Devine recently relocated the firm he owns with his wife, Janell, to Bismarck, her hometown. “Plus,” he notes, “the city is small enough to have short commutes but large enough to have major retail, which is attractive to families.”


In 2007: 103,242 residents; 14 percent rise in jobs since 2000.

Office Market

Class A space: $12–$18.50/s.f.; vacancy: 7 percent, Bismarck; 1 percent, Mandan.

Residential Market

Tops in 2006–07 median price percentage hike for condos, up 20.8 percent, to $125,000, and single-family homes, up 15.1 percent, to $161,600.

Market Strengths

  • More-diversified economy
  • Highly educated workforce
  • Affordable energy resources

Market Concerns

  • Transportation/infrastructure
  • Periodic underemployment
  • Managing growth


“The oil and gas industry will have a much greater impact on the community as it grows closer to the city,” says Bismarck-Mandan Development Association president Russell Staiger. “The current diversified economy will continue to form a stable base, with growth coming in most, if not all, industries.”