United Prairie continues to expand
As oil rigs continue to pump natural resources from northwestern North Dakota, United Prairie Cooperative in New Town has expanded its services and locations to better serve their members.
Manager John Reese explained, “In 1977, we had one downtown location and eight employees. Now, we have six locations with over 120 employees and we will continue to expand. Our retail, diesel and energy products have created our biggest growth areas which can all be attributed to the construction and oil business.”
United Prairie covers a wide variety of services and needs in New Town. Change has been the constant for United Prairie. Reese observed, “The big oil boom has been great for our co-op but we also still cater to the farmers and ranchers in the area to maintain a balance. I don’t see it slowing down in the next five years for sure.”
The downtown hardware C-Store in New Town is the flagship location for United Prairie. Selling everything from gas to veterinary supplies to automotive batteries and ranch equipment, the farm store has everything needed for rural customers. According to Reese, this was the original storefront for the cooperative.
A brand new C-Store was built on the east side of New Town in 2009 and was remodeled last spring to accommodate more growth. Another 60,000 gallons of diesel storage was added to this facility, giving the store a total capacity of 130,000 gallons. The number of fuel pumps have doubled this year and sales continue to climb. Last year, this location sold 225,000 bottles of pop.
In May 2004, the cooperative partnered with Dakota Quality Grain Cooperative of Parshall to deliver fuel and services to members. The venture created “United Propane and Fuel Partners” and reduced delivery and insurance costs while increasing the quality and types of services. The partnership resulted in substantial savings by eliminating capital investment costs and creating a strong revenue stream. Known as the energy department, it includes the delivery arm of the company using CHS Transportation. CHS handles all full load deliveries to farms, ranches, contractors and commercial customers. United Prairie also has five 5,000 gallon refined fuel delivery trucks and four propane trucks in its fleet.
The service center location handles all basic automotive care and tire services. Last year, the cooperative fixed over 15,000 tires. It has two tire trucks and five full time employees. A west side building was completely remodeled in 2011 to accommodate moving this division out of the downtown location and into their own facility.
In nearby Keene, a new C-Store is being constructed and will open sometime in August. It will have over 6,000 square feet with diesel truck islands, a new building with farm and ranch supplies.
Administrative offices are housed in yet another location, across the street from the downtown store. Seven employees work in the office and organize the financial services for the other five divisions.
Finding staff to fill the employment needs for all six locations has been difficult in part from the lack of affordable housing. To try to help the situation, the co-op formed a sister corporation to build housing on a former mobile home site. Currently, there are 18 employees housed on the lot with plans to expand into another 10 units.
“We are hard pressed to find enough people to work. We have seen a lot of out of state people coming into the area. One of our biggest challenges is instilling our midwest values to our employees. We do a lot of training,” Reese added. “Our board has been very progressive and supportive of all the changes, too.”
The board of directors include: Scott Ruland, president; Brad Nesheim, vice chairman; Chris Rohde, secretary/treasurer; Nathan Brenna, director; Edward Danks, Jr., director; Larry Jones, advisory director; and Roger Brenna, advisory director.