WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Foreign investors more familiar with projects in the emerging markets of Eastern Europe and tropical escapes of Southeast Asia are finding a new destination for their dollars and francs: Western North Dakota's oil patch that's home to booming towns, low unemployment rates and high incomes.
SelectUSA, a government foreign investment initiative, said the state has drawn at least 31 publicly announced foreign investment projects since 2003 worth a total of $1.04 billion.
Now two foreign companies are planning a pair of large oil patch developments worth $800 million.
Williston Economic Development head Tom Rolfstad said there's likely more foreign investment than what's immediately visible.
Among the latest projects is Swiss firm Stropiq's plan for a $500 million, 219-acre mixed-use development called Williston Crossing featuring 1 million square feet of retail, entertainment and hotel space along with offices and residential plots.
The oil patch is "an emerging market by most definitions, except it is in the continental U.S.," said Stropiq co-founder Terry Olin. "We have rule of law and property rights — things that in most emerging markets can be challenging."
Olin has North Dakota roots but spent the past two decades working on projects in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.
Another foreign investment firm, Singapore's Barons Group of Companies, has proposed a $300 million project in Dickinson called Barons Vista that includes a mall, four-star hotel, spa, offices and condos.
Barons entered the U.S. buying distressed properties during the recession. CEO Danny Lim said that during that time he "realized North Dakota is not suffering a depression and jobs are still very rampant."
North Dakota is an outlier in Barons' portfolio. In Malaysia, the group is developing 36-floor towers replete with luxury residences featuring infinity pools and a hotel. And in the hills of the idyllic Indonesian island of Bali and on the white sand beaches of Boracay in the Philippines it's planning five-star resorts.
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