My hometown of Williston, ND, is definitely in its own little bubble. The entire state of North Dakota pretty much is, but Williston and other boom towns are a breed of their own.
I haven’t lived in Williston for an extended period of time since the summer of 2009. A lot was changing even then in the steadily growing oil town, but it wasn’t even close to approaching the radical changes it’s undergone in the years since then. Changes that have gained national attention, happening right in my “boring” backyard. (If you haven’t checked out Part I and Part II, there’s some more information about Williston there.)
As a senior in high school in 2008, after working my way up the “corporate” ladder for the past three years at the local Subway restaurant, I was finally making $10.25 an hour as a supervisor slinging sandwiches. (Yay alliteration!) When I tell my friends this, even friends from North Dakota, they’re usually pretty amazed I got that kind of pay working at a Subway restaurant. (And, I’ll admit, I miss it a lot.)
But things are even vastly different since then. My 16 year-old brother just got his first job this summer working on an asphalt crew. The team consists mostly of females, because all the older guys who would normally be working construction are working on the oil rigs. His starting wage is $15 an hour. I’ve never made that much in my life, and I’m jealous. When I first went into sandwich slavery, I was making a mere $5.50 an hour, and happy with it.
But why do manual labor for 16 hours a day under the hot sun for $15 an hour when you could work in a fast food restaurant for the same wages?
And the $10.25 an hour at Subway that I’d worked through blood, sweat, and tears for? Yeah.
But that’s what employers need to do to entice help in Williston — A place where there are tons of jobs, tons of people, no place to put them all, and very little for them to do recreationally. After all, if you or your significant other could be making more than people with college degrees, especially in this economy, why wouldn’t you?
Exactly. Which is why a lot of people from all across the country are doing that.
But finding employees is only half the battle for non-oilfield employers in Williston. Keeping good employees is a big problem, too. People leave jobs in a heartbeat with no warning in favor of better opportunities … or sometimes just in favor of sitting at home. All the restaurants and stores are so busy there, keeping up with the demand gets to be a lot for anyone. (It was even crazy when I worked at Subway before the peak of the oil boom — Our restaurant was considered a “high-volume” store among other Subways nationwide.) For this reason, some employers are taking steps to nip that situation in the bud:
Housing in Williston, when available, is priced in relation to the competitive wages. I think it’s kind of a chicken and egg situation, but whether the housing prices are in response to the amount people are getting paid, or the amount people getting paid is compensating for the rise in housing prices, they’re definitely both high. Like, you could rent an apartment in New York City for the price of apartments in Williston.
I was glad to see, though, that while I was perusing The Shopper, some things haven’t changed.
Well, I guess I don’t know if I can say “glad.” The camouflage tux was always something my dates threatened me with during prom season.