While the unemployment rate in most of the United States hovers around 9% an unlikely sounding state is booming. The current unemployment rate in North Dakota of all places is just 3.5% according the September report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Nationwide, the rate is 9.1%). An oil boom has sprung up and immunized residents from the most severe recession in decades. Wages are up, and work is plentiful. It’s almost like being on a totally different planet. People are sending resumes and getting multiple job offers within a week. Why?
Billions of oil dollars are flowing into the state and job hunters are following. As for the oil itself, it comes from the Bakken rock formation a huge shale oil formation that up until recently has been totally untapped not because it was unknown but because the technology to tap it didn’t exist. The Bakken formation spans 14,000 square miles in North Dakota, Montana and Canada.
According to Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, “North Dakota has a lot of untapped shale oil, and developing that field may have attracted a lot of investment and a lot of employment into the state.” This has driven the unemployment rate in the small towns that lie along the Bakken oil formation, like Williston, Watford City and Belfield, down to just 1.5%.
But all is not perfect. The oil boom has created some problems as well. Since the oil boom began in western North Dakota, finding a place to live anywhere nearby has become a challenge. Cities near and far from the oil fields are rushing to provide support services and meet the growing demand for housing. This has helped to drive unemployment in the entire state down as well. Single family home construction in Bismarck has increased almost 30% from this time last year.
If projections are any indicator, oil production and all its spinoffs will be major components of North Dakota’s economy for decades. There are already 5,000 oil wells producing approximately 440,000 barrels of oil per day. Some projections say that production could reach 700,000 barrels a day. Other projections indicate triple that amount. Currently, there are over 350 oil service companies doing business in Williston alone.
Oil production has doubled in North Dakota in the last three years. Forecasts indicate that soon North Dakota will jump ahead of both California and Alaska, allowing it to rank second only to Texas in oil production. And according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, North Dakota had the highest income and job growth over the last decade of any state in the country.
People struggling to get by elsewhere have flocked to North Dakota to “Play catch-up” with their finances. Many are amazed. Saying things like, “When I came here, I thought I was on Mars. It’s just so crazy that the rest of the country has no jobs, and here’s this one place that doesn’t have enough people to fill all the jobs.” Families are flocking from all over the country to North Dakota because even low level jobs like McDonald’s have felt the boom in jobs. Entry level jobs like restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores and local banks pay a minimum of $12 per hour, according to the McKenzie County Job Development Authority. In Williston, even McDonalds pays $15 an hour just to attract employees. Higher skill jobs like truck drivers can make an average of $70,000 to $80,000 a year.
But all the rapid growth hasn’t come without a price, among the inconveniences the boom has caused include:
- A higher cost of living
- More traffic
- Higher employee turnover rates among businesses as employees leave for the oilfields
- A huge housing shortage.
Recently Governor Dalrymple said. “Unlike most of the nation, North Dakota is creating jobs, increasing wages, growing the economy and providing tax relief. Our focus on aggressive economic development and common-sense fiscal responsibility is paying off in big ways and is setting North Dakota apart from the rest of the nation.”
But it’s not just the oil sector that’s booming. Oil represents 25 percent of the state’s revenues. But the other 75 percent is just as vital to North Dakota’s sustainable economic health. Believe it or not, North Dakota jobs are also growing rapidly in a variety of other fields from biotechnology to high technology.
Recent figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the governor’s office show non-Oil Patch jobs and business activity are expanding twice as fast as every other state in the nation. Overall growth – oil and all other sectors – has been running at a 7 percent – easily more than twice the growth rate of the rest of the nation.
Some examples of the unexpected industries in North Dakota:
- Microsoft’s Fargo campus has expanded and employs 1,500 direct workers, vendors and contingent staff.
- Amazon added a 30,000-square-foot building in in Grand Forks, ND and will add 200 full-time jobs plus additional seasonal jobs.
- Caterpillar has begun a $50 million project that will generate 250 new jobs over the next three years, doubling the company’s workforce.
The state currently has 16,000 job openings, two-thirds of which are outside oil-producing counties. Over the last 10 years, North Dakota, has added nearly 50,000 new jobs (most of them outside the Oil Patch) while the rest of the country has lost jobs. So if you are looking for a job you might consider North Dakota… but be sure to make arrangements for housing before you go. Many are bringing campers because the housing supply is so tight.
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