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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Trip To America’s Fastest Growing Small City

It seems like everyone is going to the oil-rich boomtown of Williston, North Dakota.

Some years back, fewer than 13,000 people lived there, but with a recent oil boom, that number is expected to nearly triple in less than a decade.

Williston has become a magnet for men in particular, after the fracking and horizontal drilling technology enabled North Dakotans to reach the oil beneath them.

Because of the oil surge and the influx of workers, there has been a shortage in housing (and the creation of so-called “man camps”), a drop in unemployment to 1 percent, and an increase in median income, from under $30,000 to over $50,000 a year.

New York Times columnist Gail Colins recently traveled there and was struck by the glut of job openings. As she writes:

Radio ads urged me to embark on a new career as a bank teller, laborer, railroad conductor or cake decorator. The local Walmart has a big sign up, begging passers-by to consider starting their lives anew in retail sales. The Bakken Region Recruiter lists openings in truck driving, winch operating and canal maintenance work, along with ads for a floral designer, bartender, public defender, loan officer, addiction counselor and sports reporter. All in an area where the big city has a population of around 16,000.

Stephen Rodrick, contributing editor at Men’s Journal, wanted to see what life was like for the men who drove hundreds of miles through the night in hopes of finding a job to save their home from foreclosure. He reports:

Picture a small town far off the interstate. Everyone knows your name. At red lights, you wave at folks. There are a couple of diners, some gas stations, and an Applebee’s for special occasions.

Now force-feed 10,000 to 15,000 new people into that town’s piehole. You’re in modern-day Williston. On my first day, I pop into the McDonald’s to order some McNuggets, and my number is 067. They’re up to 991. Outside, the drive-in traffic backs into the road. It is 4 pm on a Sunday. I look around, and it’s like Port Authority on Christmas Eve – families sit and wait patiently, their suitcases piled at their feet. I buy some supplies at the Wal-Mart, and it’s retail Thunderdome. Tattooed guys are snatching microwaves off pallets. The toddler in front of me hurls fruit cocktail at me for the 45 minutes I wait to check out.


  • Stephen Rodrick, contributing editor at Men’s Journal

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  • Amadeesafar

    My husband works there two weeks out of the month and has ask we never come visit him due to the conditions and the lack of civility. He has compared it to a modern day wild west town.

    • Mskitty4peace

      uh…I’m sorry Amandeesafer….Your husband asked you to NOT come and visit him? Hmmm My sister has a husband she is divorcing, who works out there, same kind of schedule, he is a supervisor of several rigs….begged my sister to come and visit and she didn’t want to go to the “boomtown”(he knew she didn’t want to go) Later after finding out that he had been cheating since his feet hit the ND ground over a yr ago, with the help of some really high tech software planted on his phone… “recon”, inexpensive too, she busted him. The whole place is like a Sodom and Gomorrah  You might want to suprise visit…so much temptation and evil in that town. 

  • Louise

    If the work is that grueling, you have to wonder how many of those newcomers are going to stay and what about the environmental damage to the area?   It is sad that old-timers are cashing in and leaving. Once again money speaks louder than common sense.

  • Rose

    Williston used to be a nice, friendly, safe, clean community to live in. Because of the mass influx of people the entire environment of Williston has changed. Most people that have come are hardworking good people, but it’s also brought in sex offenders, prostitutes, etc that have made ND a more unsafe state. We are still safer than many areas but I miss the North Dakota that wasn’t on anyone’s radar and most didn’t want to come here. We knew we had something good and we were fine with others not knowing it. 

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