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DSU Hosts Workshop on Small Business in the Bakken
Post Date: May 15 2015

By The Dickinson Press
There’s an art to business, especially in the Bakken.Multiple voices gave insight on small businesses in the shale energy sector during a workshop hosted by Dickinson State University on Wednesday at the Strom Center.

The event featured both local and out-of-state experts and business leaders. The Small Business Development Center of North Dakota was responsible for organizing the workshop.

Dan Brockett, an educator from Penn State specializing in the shale energy industry, began the workshop with an overview of the industry. He said it was unique to the continent.

“We have shale plays all over the world, but none of them have really taken off, except in North America,” Brockett said.

He attributed this to aggressive entrepreneurs and private mineral ownership of resources underground.

Brockett stressed the importance of sustained interaction between shale energy industry companies and their communities. Otherwise, he said, it can be detrimental.

“If we don’t have the permission of our communities that we’re doing business in to do that business, it’ll go away,” Brockett said. “And it has.”

He cited New York, western Maryland and France as places where communities have banned hydraulic fracturing, which he feared could happen elsewhere as a result of poor public relations.

Brockett said the shale energy business is one that is “loyalty-based,” where someone who can “do the job and keep on doing the job” will remain in the business.

He said the industry is also based on technology and innovation.

“With this, it’s always changing, always evolving,” Brockett said.

He advised those interested in entering the industry to always keep track of what’s going on.

“It changes so rapidly,” Brockett said.

Jeremy Hancher, a consultant with the Environmental Management Assistance Program in Pennsylvania and a member of the SBDC in the state, said there are certain incentives for businesses to be more green.

“You can create a niche market for yourself and kind of stand out amongst your competitors,” he said.

Hancher said he noticed big fracking businesses in Pennsylvania are starting to prefer doing business with “green” small businesses because they are less likely to violate environmental laws.

He said there is one question that always comes up: “What’s in it for you?”

“You’re trying to save money and reduce costs, reduce concerns if you do want to do business with a larger company,” Hancher said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new rules for the 2015-16 year, which he encouraged small businesses to voice their opinions on.

“As the proposals are coming out, it’s very important that you comment on them and let EPA hear what your concerns and your comments are,” he said.

The workshop included a panel of local business leaders and advisors that answered questions about starting and sustaining a small business in the shale energy industry. Ray Ann Kilen, interim associate director of the Strom Center and regional director of the North Dakota SBDC, served as moderator.

The panel consisted of Steffes Corp. CEO Paul Steffes, AWTY Logistics LLC President Elizabeth Vreswyk, North Dakota SBDC Business Advisor Renee Townsend and Alan Anderson, the North Dakota Department of Commerce commissioner.

Vreswyk, whose company produces maps and apps that help workers navigate the Bakken oilfields, said she simply saw a need and acted on it.

She said she could compete with any other logistics company because “you don’t have to call tech support because they’re sitting in Malaysia. I’m actually right here, boots-on-the-ground.”

Steffes said his manufacturing company remained small for some time after the first oil boom in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but he said it always adapted to what was required in the market.

He said things changed about eight years ago when Marathon Oil asked them to make some oil tanks. At the time, they were not in the oil business.

“We had never made an oil tank in our life,” Steffes said.

Since then, Steffes said his company has grown to 310 employees, and 75 percent of its products are now related to oil.

When Kilen asked for tips on surviving as a small business in the energy industry, both Vreswyk and Steffes said having the courage to try new things was key.

“We feel we must reinvent ourself every five years,” Steffes said, emphasizing innovation.

DSU Hosts Workshop on Small Business in the Bakken - The Dickinson Press
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