I’m fascinated by the oil boom currently going on in parts of North Dakota. I really shouldn’t be surprised by boom and bust cycles. Most of Southwest Colorado was settled by miners looking to strike it rich in one way or another. I know maybe 10 or 12 people who have taken off to North Dakota for high paying jobs, and I admire that to some extent. I think we all want to make life easier and more manageable from a financial aspect, and these folks have taken the bull by the horns. If anyone is out of work right now, maybe they should move to North Dakota.
What’s Happening in North Dakota?
In case you’ve been living under a rock or just don’t pay much attention to the western states, there is a collection of things that are happening in North Dakota right now that give it the lowest unemployment rate in the country. A discovery of massive shale oil fields, new drilling and fracking techniques that make it possible to extract this oil, and our country’s attempts at lessening dependence on foreign oil have all mingled together to create an economic boom not seen in many years. You can read more about it here, but as of right now, the Unemployment rate in North Dakota is about 3.5%, and I’ve heard reports of certain areas with unemployment in the negative numbers, meaning there are way more jobs than people looking to fill them. A quote from this article in CNN Money in relation to North Dakota boom towns states that, “If someone doesn’t have a job here, they don’t want to work.”
What Kind of Jobs are Available In North Dakota?
If you’re willing to live in one of the oil boom towns like Williston, Watford City, or Belfield, you could do just about anything. Most people think all the jobs are in the oil fields and need to be manned by roughnecks, but that’s not the case. Although oil field workers can make $100,000 a year, there are other jobs to be had. Populations have doubled in some regions, creating a need for medical workers, police, teachers, engineers, and tons of jobs for unskilled workers without college degrees. McDonald’s is paying $15/hour with a sign up bonus. Strippers can make $3000 a night. Since they can’t build fast enough to accommodate the population, just about any type job that revolves around infrastructure is available with much higher than average pay.
What’s the Downside?
As with anything that seems too good to be true, there are several trade offs for making money in North Dakota oil boom.
It’s Frickin’ Cold
Winters can easily see temperatures of -35 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Since a lot of oil field employees work outside, that really sucks if you enjoy having full use of all your fingers and toes. If you worked inside, that wouldn’t be so bad, but you’d still have to leave the house on most days.
You Might Not Have a House
There is a huge housing shortage in boom town areas. Most of the people I know who have gone to North Dakota live in RV’s or in dorm style apartments. I know one guy who bought a huge fifth wheel with two bathrooms so he could rent out half of it. The rent pays for his cost of the camper plus some, so he’s a landlord while making bank at his job! My daughter’s kindergarten teacher has a husband who works in Williston. She would move in a heartbeat if he could get permanent housing. Right now he works a few months at a time and comes home for several weeks. He only gets a place when he’s working. Rents are super high, with one bedrooms going for over $1500 a month. There is no ocean view in Williston, ND.
Oil Field Work is Tough
While I said there are many non-oil field jobs available, most of the people I know have who moved to North Dakota have taken jobs in the oil industry. The work is hard and, like I said above, it’s COLD for much of the year. There is almost always overtime, and many workers only get a few hours of sleep a night. Some of the jobs are very dangerous,and working on no sleep makes them even more so. Planning a 20 year career as an oil field worker might mean your body wears out before your desire for work does.
Booms Always Bust
Just like with other boom cycles, the North Dakota oil rush will bust at some point. Even if there are 30 years of oil under the surface, you never know when environmental regulations or technological developments might make fracking illegal or obsolete. This probably wouldn’t affect transient workers as much, but if you invested in the community, it could blow up down the road.
Would I Move to North Dakota?
If I was making crap wages or couldn’t find a job, you bet I’d be there in a heartbeat. Years ago, I seriously considered taking a temporary job in Barrow, Alaska for an insane amount of money for the time worked. I ultimately decided against it because Jim and I were close to getting married, and I found a job here. If there were no other options, I would have been living in Barrow.
The other nice thing about this type market is that if your company provides housing or you can rent half of an RV cheaply, you could bank most of your money. Working for a few years could give you enough cash to buy a home outright in many areas of the country or jump start a path to retirement. I also know husbands who work in North Dakota so their wives can stay home with the kids. I’m all for working mothers, but if someone truly wants to stay home and can’t afford to, something like this is an option.
I think in summary, if you can bear the cold, find a place to live, and don’t depend too heavily on urban amenities, a move to North Dakota could be a smart idea, at least for the short term. For someone who doesn’t have good job prospects, North Dakota’s promise of $100,000 or more per year might be a great reason to move.
Would you move to North Dakota if it meant more money than you could make elsewhere? Could you leave your family behind for work?
Image: Wikipedia Commons