North Dakota struggles to cope with its oil-boom prosperity
Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune: January 26, 2013 – 10:32 PM
The oil boom has meant explosive growth for North Dakota, but life there can be frustrating and lonely, as well as lucrative.
In Williston, the epicenter of the growth, the local hospital opened a new birthing center, workers are building a giant new rec center and students are overflowing in a school that once sat empty. Civic leaders have been approving building permits and hiring police and teachers and nearly every kind of government worker.
“We really can’t grow fast enough,” said Shawn Wenko, assistant director of economic development for the city of Williston. But amid the boundless opportunity, he conceded: “I’d be lying if I said it was all roses out here.”
Lines at restaurants and stores are often frustratingly long, with few workers willing to take service jobs when more lucrative oil industry work is available. Rents have skyrocketed. With mostly men flooding into town to work, women hesitate to go out alone at night. There are more bar fights. Young parents can’t find day care for their kids.
High pay, high rent
Twelve years ago, Williston’s population stood at a little more than 12,500 people. Now, officials there estimate the town services 38,000 on a daily basis, based partly on water and sewer use. They expect it could hit 50,000 by 2017.
North Dakota’s population grew 2.2 percent to 699,628 in the year ending July 1, according to the Census Bureau. Many newcomers are from Minnesota. For years, more people moved from North Dakota to Minnesota than vice versa. That trend has changed in recent years, with North Dakota gaining approximately 4,500 to 6,500 Minnesotans each year between 2009 and 2011.
Housing is the region’s biggest problem. Most apartments and extended-stay hotels command rents that only those with lucrative oil field jobs can afford — not government or retail jobs.
On a large flashing sign next to the highway, the Value Place hotel advertised rates of $699.99 a week, well above rates for its other hotels around the country. Some people living in campers said they pay RV park owners $800 a month to park and hook up to water and sewer. Classified ads in the local Shopper listed a furnished two-bedroom apartment for $2,200. A trailer with a queen bedroom listed for $1,650 a month.