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Aberdeen May Seek Refugees from North Dakota Oil Field

Aberdeen Development Corporation chief Mike Bockorny said in February that recruiting refugees is key to filling jobs in Brown County. The focus then seemed to be Karen, Somali, and Latino workers fleeing bad conditions back home.

But now ADC sees a new field of refugees much closer to home: folks fleeing the Bakken!

Speaking after a community workforce forum Tuesday at Northern State University, Aberdeen Development Corp. workforce development coordinator Kati Bachmayer said the corporation is interested in reaching out to western North Dakota residents who have been affected by the Bakken oil boom.

“We’re interested in finding out if there are people in North Dakota who are interested in moving out of the oil patch,” Bachmayer said [Bryan Horwath, “North Dakota Might Help Solve Aberdeen Workforce Woes,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.04.08].

Hey, folks in Williston! Dickinson! Minot! Bismarck! Miss the good old days, when visitors could rent a motel room for two figures and newcomers could rent a decent trailer for three, when it was safe to cross the street, when your town wasn’t filled with money-hungry roughnecks driving up the price of pretty much everything? Leave the oil field! Come to Aberdeen, where things are nice and quiet, the way you remember them!

Bachmeyer sees a weather advantage to this Bakken-refugee idea:

“There are a lot of struggling local economies and high unemployment in the South, but what we’ve found is that we might be too cold here for a lot of those people,” she said. “We’d like to focus on states closer to us like Minnesota and Iowa and others where people wouldn’t have to make a big adjustment to the weather” [Horwath, 2015.04.08].

Aberdeen’s average temperature is about one degree Fahrenheit warmer than Williston’s.

Note that the Bakken-refugee strategy relies on (1) the continuation of the Bakken boom and (2) the failure of anyone to find Bakken trailings in the Leola Hills to turn northeastern South Dakota into another petropolis.

Bonus stats:

  1. Molded Fiber Glass Senior VP Dave Giovannini said that at its Aberdeen plant, out of 500-plus workers, 260 are Karen, and 170 are Somali or Latino. That’s roughly 85% foreign/refugee workforce.
  2. Bachmeyer says there are 1,000 unfilled jobs in Aberdeen. Strangely, Mayor Mike Levsen has yet to put up billboards featuring his smiling face saying, “Aberdeen Has Jobs!”


  1. Nick Nemec 2015-04-08 09:00

    These stories about South Dakota towns not having the workers they need to fill the jobs available drive me nuts. If an employer can’t attract enough workers he needs to change the conditions of the job. The easiest condition to change, and the one that will have the greatest effect when trying to recruit workers, is increasing the wage paid.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-08 09:21

    I wonder, Nick: is there really work that’s not getting done? Is there a lady down the street saying, “Come build me a porch!” and the contractor is saying, “Sorry, lady, I can’t hire any porch builders,” and the lady is going without a porch? Are these openings jobs that businesses were paying people to do a year or two ago, and then those workers left, and they haven’t been able to find a replacement since?

    Or are these open jobs more like my wishful blog thinking: sure, I could hire a couple reporters, if they were willing to work for unpredictable and often negligible pay? And if there were people for these jobs, would they be meeting unmet needs, or would they allow businesses to try expanding their markets and advertise more buyers into wanting their products and services?

    I’m pretty sure we could put 1,000 to work right away (well, another couple weeks, once the last frost gets out of the ground) fixing roads in Brown County. But what are the other jobs that aren’t getting done?

    I agree that Brown County can try recruiting whoever it wants from wherever it wants, but that its efforts will go nowhere if employers don’t step up with competitive wages. It’s as if South Dakota is determined to try everything but better wages to get people to come here.

  3. Nick Nemec 2015-04-08 09:46

    I wonder if some of those job offerings are an employer running a standing ad on the off chance a promising potential worker applies thus giving the employer the opportunity, in this “right to work” state to fire the least productive person on the payroll and replace them with someone else.

  4. Lynn 2015-04-08 10:05

    Doesn’t Molded Fiber Glass cycle thru employees every 4 years or so? There used to be many more locals working there since it was considered a good paying manufacturing job.

  5. Lynn 2015-04-08 10:06

    Possibly one of the downsides for South Dakota being a right to work state.

  6. PNR 2015-04-08 11:01

    I’m trying to figure out “Karen” in this – is that supposed to be “Kenyan” and your spell-check erroneously “corrected” it?

    Or am I just ignorant of this country Kar from which Karen refugees come?

  7. Nick Nemec 2015-04-08 12:13

    If you give those Karen refugees a few generations they’ll be making hotdish too. I just hope they also keep their ethnic food. Does anyone know a cafe in SD featuring Karen style cuisine?

  8. mike from iowa 2015-04-08 12:49

    workers are bailing and heading for Minn where wages are higher. Right to work is koch bros code for union busting states. Bust the unions,like Walker Weasel in Wisconsin and then blatantly talk about how busting unions defunds Dems and gives a funding advantage to wingnuts.

  9. PNR 2015-04-08 15:56

    Got it, Cory. Thanks. Glad they’re able to find work here.

  10. Roger Elgersma 2015-04-08 18:48

    If they left low pay to come to Aberdeen, then when they find out about the Bakken they might leave low pay again. If Aberdeen wants to keep those workers they should shut up about how much better it is somewhere else.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-08 19:56

    I’m glad anyone will come for the American dream, PNR. Now if we could just get them to adopt some distinguishing spelling, like Ka-Ren, or Kharenh, or K’ren!

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-08 20:00

    There’s the tricky needle Aberdeen’s trying to thread, Roger E. Aberdeen knows full well it can’t offer boomtown wages, so there’s no point in competing for the oil workers and other opportunists who are willing to uproot and take long hours and rough living conditions for big paychecks. Aberdeen is targeting the regular folks in the middle of that maelstrom who want to get back to normal life. Low stress, quiet rural life… it’s a deliberate play for folks who are looking for something other than boomtown paychecks.

    But there we go again, ignoring the basic workforce development plan of offering higher pay. how long do we think we can keep getting workers for nothing?

  13. grudznick 2015-04-08 20:24

    I hear there are plenty of rich people in Aberdeen, and a really fat and happy middle class. I have never seen a beggar in Aberdeen. I think may of the Willistonianites will be quite happy there. Dickensonianers are a little different breed, if I recall, but probably at least 50% of them will go to Aberdeen and the rest are more Huronistic stock.

  14. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-08 21:40

    There are lots of Karen (kah-REN) folks here, and services for them.

    Not all of the tools being used to attract people to jobs are wages. If the pay is on the low side, add other benefits: Paid vacation, even 3-4 days annually. Increase in break time. Nicer break room. Provide snacks. A nursing/expressing room for mothers. On site child care is hugely popular, even though families pay the going rate.

    Each of those items, except vacation, is much cheaper than a pay increase. Little things like respect, courtesy, birthday cards and other little things make a difference too. Include workers in planning, some decision making.

    Attracting labor isn’t only about money and it’s not rocket science.

  15. Les 2015-04-08 21:40

    Interesting note from a Bakken oil worker who ended up visiting me a few weeks back. He went back to RC because; of the 150,000 wages, 50k went to taxes and 50k went to living expenses leaving him with 50k for 60 plus hour weeks to cover expenses for his family in the Hills.

    “Les, I can make 50k in RC, be home with friends and family and have the same bank account I had in Williston.”

    As with most of our world it is the few who make all the gravy.

  16. mike from iowa 2015-04-09 04:34

    What Les said. Sounds like someone got a dose of reality. The meek shall inherit the Earth,minus the 99% the koch bros claim.

  17. SuperSweet 2015-04-10 12:01

    I saw a help wanted at a Burger King in Clearwater, MN for $15/hr yesterday.

  18. Daniel Buresh 2015-04-10 12:55

    And I have a buddy who took out a loan for two semis in 2008, and just sold his business this year for 16.5 million. 50k a year in living expenses? I call complete BS. I have friends who live there for 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. After living expenses, they clear over 90k. If you are paying over 4k a month to live, you are spending too much time at the bar.

  19. Les 2015-04-10 13:03

    I repeated what I was told, Daniel. I do know enough about the bakken to call total BS on your friends clearing 90k on two on two off. Obviously the BS floats well out of the Bakken.

  20. Daniel Buresh 2015-04-10 13:23

    I know people making 3 times that on 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. Living expenses are generally the same for everyone, wages are not.

  21. Les 2015-04-10 13:40

    And what would these high paying positions be DB?

  22. Daniel Buresh 2015-04-10 13:52

    My cousin is an engineer for Haliburton in ND and makes over 200k. The other is a driller and makes mid 6 figures.

  23. Les 2015-04-10 15:27

    An engineer at 200k in the Bakken isn’t overpaid. The frac engineers I’ve heard can make over 500k if they are producing. I don’t know of any engineers working half time for big money. Full time can make several hundred in the Gulf with 100k bonus.

    We are not talking engineers or drillers when we speak of folks coming and going into the Bakken. Your driller at mid six figures, are you saying 500k?

    I got to thinking about living expenses with two homes. That’s my world and they are several hundred miles apart and not in the Bakken. The costs remain regardless of which home I occupy. I feel I could easily save 30k by not having to travel and maintain two residences.

    Btw, Haliburton bought out Baker Hughes and though they laid off many BH employees they are still planning on dumping a over 6500 employees. Also housing in man camps runs approx from over $10 per day when supplied by company to over $100 per when not. Put a few meals on top of that.

  24. Daniel Buresh 2015-04-10 16:21

    No, I meant about 150k for the driller. That was my mis-communication. Wasn’t thinking there.

    Two homes would be tough, but they also share living facilities. Going the camper route can be cheaper but a bigger pain at times. Lots of things will change up there as companies merge. Oxy bought out our last leases, and I have a few family members working for them that are scared of layoffs. Higher up you are, the more likely they will just move you to where you are needed. I know at the peak of things, most companies had to arrange living quarters to even acquire workers. That was the main thing stopping people from even going out there. When empty shop buildings in Watford City sell for 200k and can be built here for 30k. It’s crazy. You can put a lot of beds in a building that size though.

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