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America's New Boomtown: Williston, North Dakota

Updated on November 15, 2012

With 12 million Americans out of work and even more in part-time gigs that are not counted or those who have stopped looking: consider Williston, North Dakota. In 1859, it was called more appropriately, Pithole, because oil wells and within nine months grew to 15,000. The town sits in the northwest part of the state along the Missouri River is the epicenter of the NEW oil shale discovery called Bakken. Many oil companies are there already, flooding the area with job and strangers. As these men come to work the oil fields, they need places to live, places to eat, places to shop, places for their kids, schools and more.

Williston is now 25,000, mostly out of towners. The unemployment is LESS than 1% and in May, had 1700 jobs unfilled and only 240 unemployed. Walmart, known for dirt wages of $8 hr. in most places, pays their employees there $17 hr. These jobs, when advertised, go quickly. There is a shortage of apartments, housing and hotels. Staying a night there could cost you $200 a night but you might find a small cabin for $100. Many of the oil workers now sleep in the cars or in army-like barracks provided by the oil company. In 2003, only 17 homes were built in the town, today, it is 1400. Real estate is booming, a four bedroom home in 2007 might have cost only $50K, today it is $180K. Besides rising home costs, apartment rents are also because of the short supply. People must bid with cash.

Since 2007, the town's population has increased 100% and projections indicate will double or triple in a few years as job seekers and job creators arrive to take advantage of the oil shale boom. One real estate project that will cost over $150 million, is the 164 acre project that will build 810 apartments, 737 homes, a park, schools and sport fields. This one project will provide a home to 4000.

But, before you zip off to the Bakken oil fields for a gig, most of the oil specific jobs require prior experience in the tasks involved and working in the oil field environment. Many are engineering or other technical jobs and there are few entry level\OJT jobs. The need for truck drivers is there, they usually pay around $25-30 hr. and they work long hours. Of course, like any relocation, even if temporary, requires an act of faith, luck, and having a savings in hand to make the transition. Williston is becoming expensive. There are many who are just reading this and thinking of going there, just know, there are many already there looking for work because the boomtown secret is not new, it has been happening for a few years. The winters in the area can and often are brutally cold being next to Canada, the summers, warm to hot. But, a job is a job and it just depends how desperate one becomes when it comes to relocating.


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    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 5 years ago

      Thanks for this article. I have written articles about the oil reserves in our country and it is great to know the kind of job growth in your article is possible if only the Keystone pipeline would be approved. I have tweeted, pinned and posted a link to this hub on facebook.

      Great job