September 1, 2014
Colter DeVries, a business relationship manager with Wells Fargo Bank in Billings, has been getting a firsthand view of the energy boom in North Dakota and Eastern Montana. When bank managers said they were looking for somebody to help grow business in Eastern Montana, DeVries, a native of Roberts, volunteered. He visits the energy-producing region every few weeks to help clients and to develop new business. Here's his story:
Growing up in Roberts undoubtedly gave you some experience in agriculture. How has that background prepared you for your banking career?
I understand firsthand the conflicting family dynamics involved — the different personalities, appetites for risk, ambitions, visions, education, industry experiences and goals. These dynamics are among people who usually have an equal say or even legal ownership in the same asset (the land, cattle, crops and equipment), not to mention an equal love. It’s easy for me to empathize with my ag customers because I understand that what they do is not solely based on internal rates of return, operating ratios or heuristics — it’s largely an altruistic love of the land and lifestyle, and it often seems like their business is more of a generational obligation than it is an opportunity for achieving profits and creating wealth.
Are things still growing as quickly in Sidney as has been the case for the past few years?
Absolutely. The entrepreneurial spirit is thriving from the growing economic demands created in the energy sector. You have everything from your large commercial real estate and housing projects created by some of the nation’s largest private equity firms, to food trucks and main street clothing stores started by the hometown girl who otherwise would have never had the opportunity because previously it did not make business sense. Fortunately, Wells Fargo can and does support a wide range of entrepreneurship, which enables me to be involved in many different businesses and industries.
Are local officials making any progress in addressing the community’s infrastructure needs?
Richland County Commissioners, city officials, school districts and even nonprofits are all doing an excellent job of responding to the challenge of changing conditions. Their progressive and proactive approach to long-term planning is evidence of how dynamic Eastern Montana is and how ambitious and resilient the people are. I try to do my part by being involved in affordable housing, highway bypass construction and wastewater treatment projects. At Wells Fargo, we’re responsible for promoting the long-term economic prosperity and quality of life for everyone in our communities. If they prosper, so do we.
When it comes to finding new business, what works for you?
For me, local networking is by far the most effective. I attend the Billings Ag-Chamber breakfasts and recently joined the Billings Next-Gen Chamber group. Because I am early in my career and can be considered a “young professional,” Next Gen is a great way to meet other professionals in my demographic who will be the future business leaders of the state.
Where do you stay when you work in the Sidney office?
I’ve had it fairly easy — no man-camps or RV parks in the winter. I stay at the Holiday Inn Express as long as I reserve it at least 10 days in advance. I also use the Essential Air Service on occasion, and I think that has been very helpful in serving the Bakken region. It allows easy, affordable access to the region for engineers, doctors, accountants and other professions that rural communities usually lack.
Looking down the road, is there a chance that you may become more involved in the family ranching operation, or will banking keep you occupied from here on out?
Between my professional ambitions with Wells Fargo and my commitments to the communities of Billings and Sidney, right now my hands are too full to consider taking on a larger ranching role other than moving cows or fixing fence. And even on the ranch, my skills are probably better suited to being in an office rather than on a tractor. Many area professionals are able to find a balance between off-farm income and on-farm duties, so I hope to be able to do that eventually without upsetting my own family dynamics. I don’t think my dad would find any humor in it if I drove in from town and said, “You see that black angus bull there? Well, I think he needs to be a Belgian Blue.”