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Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of stories from Dustin Hurst of Watchdog.org, who is on special assignment in North Dakota and writing about the Bakken oil fields.
By DUSTIN HURST |Watchdog.org
WILLISTON, N.D. — Idaho native Adam Holloway is genuinely surprised that someone has shown interest in his story.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” he says.
Holloway, 20, was frantically searching for work in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, looking for any job that would pay enough to cover his bills. For a while this year he worked in home construction with his family, but the work was inconsistent.
He got by, but he wanted more.
“I made just enough to make it, and that’s the problem.”
Holloway had heard tales of riches in North Dakota. Using new technology, oil companies unlock vast reserves of oil, bringing explosive new wealth — and the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, an astonishing 2.9 percent.
Holloway wanted in.
In May, he packed his belongings in his 2001 Hyundai Sonata and drove more than 1,000 miles to Williston, N.D., the epicenter of the oil revolution.
He entered town without a job, but he had some money.
Things will be OK, he thought.
“I had enough money to get home.”
But he was in North Dakota — with no place to stay.
In just a few months, the rush of workers swamped the area’s housing supply. Rental prices rocketed out of reach for many, including Holloway.
He spent more than two months sleeping in the front seat of his car.
Never mind the fact that a single room can go for as much as $1,000 per month, he says. Long waiting lists mean “you’re lucky to find a room, let alone pay $1,000 a month.”
When temperatures fell into the low 40s, he used the car’s heater to stay warm.
He parked the Sonata in the parking lot of his church, the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He’d brought a small camp stove. It helped him to eat better than other workers; they survived on a diet of fast food.
He landed a job at the local Applebee’s, reportedly the busiest store in the nationwide chain . The manager hired Holloway at $12 per hour; $5 more per hour than most other stores in the chain.
He bought a gym membership at Anytime Fitness, but the gym barred patrons from using the facility solely for the showers. So he exercised, even after working long shifts at the restaurant.
Holloway had little in the way of protection. He carried in his car a couple of hunting knives. He says he never saw anything that would require a gun.
Still, he could find no place to live.
Housing is a common complaint among oil workers and locals alike. The North Dakota Petroleum Council estimates the boom brought at least 35,000 new workers to the region.
The housing demand is seemingly insatiable, making it about impossible to find a hotel room on a Williston weeknight. Rental rates continue to rise. Oil companies work feverishly to build housing for workers, but service demands have pinched the construction business.
The tight market is a boon to anyone who can quickly provide adequate housing, no matter how temporary.
Entrepreneurs have followed the oil.
Florida resident Danny Matthews works with two partners from HKE Enterprises, providing two-bedroom mobile homes for a whopping $3,000 a month.
Matthews and crew hold 19 two-bedroom, 600-square-foot mobile home units in a dusty field in Watford City. A cattle yard is next door. Across the street are grain elevators.
Winds scoop up the dirt and carry it through the lot, where it settles on the mobile homes.
HKE brought the units here from job sites across the country. Each unit cost the company about $20,000. Each mobile home comes with a small kitchen, satellite television and wireless Internet.
They are parked in two rows. A couple of floodlights keep nightly watch.
Sitting in the mobile trailer that serves as the company office, Matthews shrugs off any assertion that he’s gouging workers and companies. “Housing is tight,” he says.
He’s correct. Matthews has one renter in place, one on the way, and an oil service company has just signed a contract for six units.
If Matthews can rent them all, HKE would see $57,000 in rent payments each month.
Matthews’ rent tops that of more luxurious mobile homes across the country. In Las Vegas, for example, a four-bedroom unit might cost about $1,000 monthly. In Los Angeles, a renter could get a three-bedroom unit with access to a community pool for $925.
But in Williston, spending $3,000 a month buys access to the nation’s hottest economy and billions in oil wealth.
Workers like Holloway submit to the costs. They don’t have much choice.
“The nation is really bad,” Holloway says. “It’s not good.”
Many workers come to the region looking to feed families back home or to simply make the monthly mortgage payment.
Holloway came to fulfill a dream.
“I’m using this job to get a new start,” he says. He wants to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, next year. He isn’t sure about a major, but he wants to minor in business.
About two weeks ago he moved into a trailer with his brother-in-law. Holloway pays for utilities and groceries, which cost about $300 a month. Applebee’s promoted him twice, so he’s now making $14 an hour. He averages 65 hours a week, and he funnels the overtime pay into a college savings account.
Holloway plans to leave North Dakota in September. He doesn’t want to be around for the harsh winter. He wants to study, to prepare for college.
He has quite a story to tell. He has overcome a lot.
Yet, he takes it all with a healthy dose of humility.
“I came up here and I wasn’t going to give up,” he explains shyly. “You can make it if you’re willing to work.”
Read original story here.
Tags: Adam Holloway, Bakken oil feilds, hope, housing demand, North Dakota, oil, opportunity, risk, technology, wealth
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