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Why I Moved Back to North Dakota — and You Should, Too

Safe and welcoming communities and plentiful opportunities top these locals' lists.

By Heather Cherry on January 4, 2023

Oakes Wall Mural. Credit North Dakota Tourism
North Dakota Tourism

North Dakota is a top contender if you’re looking for an impeccable quality of life, a cleaner environment, picturesque scenery and a supportive community. 

And while many young graduates decide to migrate elsewhere, they often feel the desire to return to North Dakota. 

Regardless of where you’ve gone, there’s no place like home — and now is a great time to come back.

So why should you consider moving back to North Dakota? We talked to two boomerang residents about why they returned to the Peace Garden state and what keeps them here. 

Dickey County Heritage Center. Credit North Dakota Tourism
North Dakota Tourism

Rebecca Undem — Oakes, ND 

Undem is the founder and executive director of Growing Small Towns, a community development organization, as well as a speaker, author and consultant. After moving away for 10 years, she returned to North Dakota 14 years ago. She lives in Oakes with her husband and three children, ages 8, 11 and 13.

What brought you back to North Dakota?
I was brought back because of my husband’s work. 

What keeps you in North Dakota?
Legacy. My dad is a fourth-generation farmer. I never planned to return or help run the family business, but the opportunity presented itself. It means a lot to me to continue their legacy — carrying on my parents’ tradition and hard work.

Farming is one of those businesses where it’s always in the back of a farmer’s mind who will carry it on — the land itself gets in their blood. My dad was the fourth generation, and now I represent the fifth, and there’s something to that.

What do you tell people who are considering moving back to North Dakota? 
I always ask them why they’re moving back and what they value. There are tradeoffs for living in a smaller town. Our community doesn’t have everything, but Fargo doesn’t have everything. So recognize what you care about, value and want.

What would you say, aside from farming, are the best job opportunities in North Dakota? 
Remote employment. There is a more significant opportunity than ever before because we can work in a way that didn’t exist just a few years ago. It’s incredible what we can do in the smallest corners of the world, and the ability to work remotely is a great way for people to build their careers and live in places like Oakes, North Dakota. We want to continue highlighting remote work as a usual way of life. We have a co-working facility; it’s not unknown and strange here. This is what we do.

Oakes Parade in downtown Oakes by Jacob Just from Bismarck. Honorable mention in the Festivals and Events category of the 2022 Governor's Photo Contest for Travel and Tourism.
Jacob Just

What do you love most about living in North Dakota?
I love raising my family here. Safety is a big deal, and I don’t have to worry when my kids decide to ride their bikes across town. Not only does this afford them freedom, and offers the ability to develop their independent thinking. They must learn how to problem solve and think critically — that’s how they grow and build skills. Also, it is comforting to know that people in the community know us and are willing to look out for each other.

Is the cost of living better in North Dakota?
When you live in a small town, some things are less expensive, as there are more expensive things. For example, commercial property is cheaper to buy, and there are fewer things to spend your money on — so your money tends to go a little further here. 

How would you say the community supports you? 
There is something special about the people who choose to live here — we’re hardy and have a little grit because the weather can sometimes be brutal. But there is that bit of legacy — carrying on the work ethic, being dependable and reliable.

I travel around the country for work — whether speaking or going to conferences — and our reputation for being decent people matters. We look out for each other and help each other. If that’s on your value list, then this is a great place to choose to live. That’s one of the remarkable things about North Dakota. 

If someone is interested in growth and development, what can they look forward to in North Dakota?
People have a real opportunity to shape their community. When people say their town might struggle with a lack of diversity — not just from an ethnic and cultural standpoint but thinking and being — I encourage them to be the shift they want to see. I am doing my part to transform the community in a way I want to see change, and others can, too.

Most people believe that living in more rural areas means a lack of amenities. But is this true of North Dakota?
North Dakota has excellent internet across the rural footprint. There was a time when you felt like you were living in the middle of nowhere, and the quality of life was defined by the businesses there. But we have a full-service community, and you don’t have to leave. Plus, online retailers fill the gap on the things you can’t get here — that’s reduced the inconvenience factor of being far away from a larger community.

What else might people not know about North Dakota that they should know?
Leadership is accessible. You can get a hold of people in government reasonably quickly. If you want to get something done, it usually only takes a few phone calls. North Dakota is an excellent place for those who wish to contribute significantly to the community they live in. 

williston nd
North Dakota Tourism

Shawn Wenko — Williston, ND

Shawn Wenko is the executive director of the Williston Economic Development Office. He moved back to North Dakota 14 years ago after living elsewhere for 13 years. (Trying to add locations.) He lives in Williston with his wife and two children, ages 8 and 11. 

What brought you back to North Dakota?
Specifically, I came back to work for the economic development office. But I was also excited about the growth happening here — especially with job opportunities and quality of life. 

What keeps you in North Dakota?
It’s a great place to raise my family, and there’s many opportunities for them. But I greatly enjoy my job as an economic developer in Williston — no two days are the same.

Main Street Williston, ND.
Courtesy City of Williston

What would you say are the best job opportunities in North Dakota? 
The oil and gas industry is closely followed by agriculture. Emerging technologies are taking off — unmanned aerial systems and the value-added industry offer many opportunities.

How would you say the community supports you? 
People are friendly and accepting — there’s that small-town feel.

3E Pastry Cafe
North Dakota Tourism

If someone is interested in growth and development, what can they look forward to in North Dakota?
We’re on the cusp of a unique community in terms of growth. The second stage of development is set to attract young individuals in the future.

Most people believe that living in more rural areas means a lack of amenities. But is this true of North Dakota?
Because of the growth, we’ve seen a lot of diversification and attracted more amenities. People would be surprised to see all we have in Williston.

This article was sponsored by the North Dakota Department of Commerce.

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