Do you live somewhere with a stagnant economy? Been looking for a job without any luck? North Dakota would like to invite you to seek employment where the economy is on overdrive, thanks to the oil boom that has transformed the state over a few short years.
“Find the Good Life in North Dakota” is the tagline for an advertising campaign that will recruit workers from around the nation to fill some 25,000 vacant positions. On Monday, an executive from Hess Corporation, one of the major players fracking the Bakken shale formation in the western part of the state, handed over $400,000 to North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley to help fund the ad blitz. The North Dakota Economic Development Foundation will match that amount, and the $800,000 will go into a multimedia workforce-recruitment campaign launching in May.
Hess’s stake in the region is significant: the company is betting almost half of its 2014 exploration and production funds on the Bakken formation, some $2.2 billion dollars. Steve McNally, the company's general manager in North Dakota, told the Bismarck Tribune thar the company is hoping to find workers who don't just want to get a quick paycheck and go home to another part of the country. "We are faced with significant workforce needs," McNally said. "We want people … who see the opportunities in North Dakota. We need a workforce that we can rely on in the future."
The ad firm charged with luring that workforce, Bismarck-based Odney, is the same one whose "Legendary" tourism campaign came in for local and national ridicule back in 2012. (Odney's website says the ads delivered a healthy return on investment and that "the Legendary campaign is continuing to deliver impressive results and helping to create a distinctive brand image for North Dakota.")
North Dakota has been struggling to attract enough qualified people to work extracting oil from the state’s reserves. The ad campaign, which will target states with high and persistent unemployment, has not yet been designed, but in a press release, the economic development council says it will "emphasize the career opportunities available in North Dakota and promote the things that make the state a great place to live, work and raise a family." Specifically in demand are people qualified for jobs in engineering, healthcare, energy, skilled trades, transportation, and information technology.
One thing the campaign is unlikely to highlight is the tremendously high cost of living in cities such as Williston, on the edge of the oil patch. A one-bedroom in Williston goes for well north of $2,000, making this town of 26,700 (up from 14,700 in 2010) the priciest housing market in the country for "entry-level" apartments. And don't expect many amenities. A lot of that housing is in barracks-style buildings. Still, you’re lucky if you can find anything to rent at all, as some workers are living out of their cars in local parking lots.
Up until now, much of the attention that oil boom towns such as Williston have gotten has been negative, like the New York Times story last year about the high crime rate and the sexual harassment and violence faced by the town’s relatively few women. The new ad campaign will presumably try to paint a rosier picture.
"We're a state with great schools, friendly people, supportive and safe communities, arts and entertainment, tremendous outdoor recreation and, of course, great job opportunities," Wally Goulet, chair of the economic development foundation, in a press release.
And hey, they’re hiring.