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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Western N.D. Oil Boom Offers Beacon to Unemployed

- Western N.D. Oil Boom Offers Beacon to Unemployed

Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
by Lisa Miller, The Dickinson Press, N.D.

The diversity of Dickinson continues to grow as more and more people from all parts of the country and walks of life move to western North Dakota for employment.

A recent energy boom including the discovery of oil and gas in the area, have many people seeing dollar signs.

Lexi Sebastian, the executive director of the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce , said since the beginning of the year the Chamber has received approximately 500 phone calls and 225 walk-ins requesting information about the community.

She added the chamber receives about 40 contacts a day from people looking to relocate and mails about that many relocation information packets a month.

Steve Kass of Hayward, Wis., is one of those relocators.

He moved to Dickinson after work in Wisconsin slowed.

"I used to work construction, panelizing and building walls," Kass said. "In the summer of 2006 I was working on a big commercial project in Illinois when day after day union carpenters began coming in looking for work. I thought to myself if they are slow what's coming next?"

And he was right.

"By the fall I had to let between 15 and 20 guys go because there was just no business," Kass said. "It was a very difficult thing to do."

Kass then did remodeling on his own until that "petered out" too.

"My family, (wife Amy and kids Tyler and Jordan) were barely getting by and this spring I decided I had to do something," Kass said.

He added a few people in his community were moving to North Dakota because they had heard a lot of places were hiring.

"So I decided to check it out," Kass said. He and a friend packed-up one weekend and attended a job fair.

But on the way one of the tires on the camper the pair was toting blew out near Richardton.

"We went into town for help and a young man offered so we went and got the tire fixed and then he offered to let us park the camper on his dad's farm," Kass said. "One thing that really surprised me was how nice everyone in North Dakota is."

He added other things that surprised him were the lack of trees, general landscape and the amount of wind.

"Everyday there is wind," Kass said laughing.

Two days after the job fair both men were hired.

"It was such a relief," Kass said.

He now works for Steier Oil Field Service as a roustabout.

"Its kind of like being a mechanic. We fix things on location," Kass said.

He added one nice thing about Steier Oil Field Service is that they are big on safety.

"I had no experience," Kass said. "I did not even know what an oil field looked like, but they trained me and things are going well."

Kass said sometimes he feels like a fish out of water yet because of his lack of experience and because most of his coworkers are younger than him.

"My boss is 21, I'm 42," Kass said. "I never thought I'd have to start over again."

Kass said what he misses most is his family.

"I talk to them every day and always get the same question 'Dad when are you coming home?'" Kass said. "It's tough, its really tough to be away from family and missing out on all their big adventures. It's also tough because I have always been the protector and made sure everyone was safe, happy and healthy and I can't do that from here."

He added he really wants to move his family here but can't find affordable housing nor can he sell his home back in Wisconsin because they are having housing problems of the opposite kind.

"My wife is an accountant, so we both have good jobs but in today's economy and cost of living things are tight," Kass said.

Right now Kass and his friend are living in their camper.

"I have to find something before the winter," Kass said. "But if housing stays this way it's almost not worth staying. It's cheaper to buy another house, but then my wife and I will be paying for two houses."

Kass said on a typical day he starts at 6:30 a.m. He heads out to get job orders then goes from location to location and returns to the camper between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

"I work as many hours and weekends as I can because I am trying to earn money for my family and because there is nothing to do," Kass said. "Actually I shouldn't say there is nothing to do because that's not true, I just don't feel like going out without my family."

He added once in a while he goes golfing with some friends but many nights he sits at home watches TV, eats a microwave meal, showers and goes to bed.

"It's just so different than what I have done in the past," Kass said. "It's a different way of life."

He added another nice thing is that Steier Oil Field Service doesn't have a problem with employees going home, they are very family friendly.

"The problem for me is home is hundreds of miles away," Kass said. "It's expensive both to fly and drive and it's almost a 10 hour drive. I go home for two days. The time just seems so short but it is worth it."

Kass added the economy everywhere else in the country is crud.

"You hear and learn about the great depression, I never thought I'd live it," Kass said. "No one is hiring back home, people in North Dakota should feel very blessed because it's not like this everywhere else, you really don't know unless you've seen it."

Kass said he wishes he had this kind of work at home not only for himself but his neighbors as well.

Copyright (c) 2011, The Dickinson Press, N.D.

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