Oil Jobs The New Gold As Thousands Join N.D. Rush
NORTH CAROLINA – In the icy parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Williston, N.D., the next wave of economic refugees is washing in, counting down the hours until they can turn their back on a past they’d like to forget.
On one chilly day in December, there’s the family from North Carolina, which has crammed mom, dad, teenage son and two dogs into an old Winnebago, driving some 3,000 kilometres in hopes of finding work. And there is Eric Larsson, who has come more than 1,000 kilometres from eastern Idaho in a truck loaded with tools, looking for a job after his position vanished – along with his house – three years ago. He’s pulling a trailer he just bought so he can have a place to sleep.
These people, and thousands of others whose stories bear a striking similarity, have come to join the frenzy – by plane, by ratty truck, by train. Williston, with a population of around 20,000, was a quiet North Dakota town, surrounded by oil fields that had been in decline for decades. Now, it is the heart of the Bakken, a new oil play that has abruptly woken one of the sleepiest states in the Union, transforming North Dakota into an energy heavyweight.
It has also made Williston, whose surrounding county now has the lowest unemployment rate in the entire country, a new destination for America’s jobless, homeless and would-be rich.
There is the Louisiana driller, who brought an entire crew with him after discovering he could boost his pay by $15 an hour by heading north. There is the family who came with an infant and a tent, until someone took pity on them ahead of a major snowstorm. There is the man who sought refuge inside a clothing rack at Wal-Mart, having no other place to stay.
There is Scotty Lail, who watched the bank seize his truck, his fifth-wheel RV trailer and his house after he and 3,500 others were laid off from a Freightliner manufacturing plant. He came to Williston to rebuild, starting with a credit rating that, he hopes, will soon be sufficiently repaired to let him back into home ownership.
“You gotta go to where the money is at,” he says.
Even the jet set is seeking a Bakken salvation. Wealthy hedge fundmanagers and private investors have left New York for Williston in Learjets, drawn by hopes of sinking millions into land that can be developed for a return that seems more certain than anything the financial markets might provide.
Williston is an undeniable boomtown, a modern-day Dawson City or San Francisco – the gold-rush analogies are inevitable. But in many ways, the best comparison lies just over a thousand kilometres north. Williston is America’s Fort McMurray – down to many of the incredible details.
In Williston, like Fort Mac a few years ago, fast-food joints post lunch-time hourly rates that are double the minimum wage. McDonald’s offers hiring bonuses. Its drive-through – recently widened into two lanes – is so busy, the line of trucks often spills out onto the street. A local gym has lineups 10 deep for its men’s showers, as the employed homeless turn wherever they can.
Temporary accommodations have sprung up like weeds. Permits have been issued for 9,400 spots in “man-camps,” the local term for mobile-home-style worker camps that have been growing so fast the county issued a six-month moratorium this fall on any additions. Existing hotels are jammed. Two hotels opened this spring. Six new ones are under construction, and oil service companies are booking entire floors before they are even built.
Drive an hour in any direction from Williston, and the bare hills are being cleared to accommodate new hotels, new camps and, often, mini RV camps in the backyard of farm residences. At a going rate of $500 to $1,000 a month just to park and plug in a camper, there’s good money to be made for a landowner that doesn’t mind a dozen new neighbours.
In an extreme housing crisis, prices have ballooned. Single-family family homes that sold for $40,000 five years ago now go for $150,000. Some single-bedroom apartments that were going for $500 a month now fetch $2,000. One commercial property worth $50,000 not long ago now leases for $110,000 – a year.
Short URL: http://woodlawnpost.com/?p=34455