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5 area counties place in top 10

Senior operations manager at Dickinson Pressure Pumping, Daniel Booth, begins his Friday morning by reading emails in his office at BJ Services Co. in Dickinson.

Slope, McKenzie, Dunn, Stark and Billings counties rank among the top 10 counties in North Dakota in 2010 with the highest average annual wage, according to recently released statistics from Job Service North Dakota.

Experts say well paying jobs in the energy industry and competition for employees are two reasons some residents pockets and bank accounts are filling up.

One of those pockets is that of Brandon Duncan, a native of North Carolina.

Duncan was employed as a plumber before he began working for Big Sky Well Service in Belfield. He heard about the oil boom and headed west.

"Life has definitely gotten a lot better since I moved to North Dakota," Duncan said. "I finally have some money in my pocket. It feels good to finally be able to afford nice things."

Michael Ziesch, BLS Programs supervisor for the LMI Center, Job Service North Dakota said the county rankings purely come down to the counties industry mixes.

He added western counties have a higher proportion of mining, utility, oil, gas and renewable energy jobs.

"Because those companies are doing well they are able to pay employees more for their hard work," Ziesch said, adding a person has to go a long way down the list before they run into a county that can claim the high wages are not energy related.

Ziesch said Oliver County is number one because of well-paying mining jobs and Slope's success can be credited to oil and gas-related service businesses.

"Another thing you have to consider when you see these high wages is how other businesses are indirectly affected by the energy industry jobs," Ziesch said. "Construction, hospitality and retail businesses are also reaping the benefits of the energy boom in the west."

He added employers competing for workers and wage pressure have also helped drive up wages in western North Dakota.

He said statistics that indicate that to him are that from 2009 to 2010 the average annual wage in North Dakota increased by 5.9 percent, compared to an increase of 26.2 percent in Dunn County, 19.7 percent in Slope and 17.3 percent in Stark County.

Stark County Commissioner Duane Wolf agrees adding, employers have had to compete with oil field wages to keep good trained employees.

"The high wage counties also have the lowest unemployment rates in the state," Ziesch said. "It's definitely a job seekers market out west."

Wolf said good jobs with competitive wages go hand in hand with the low unemployment rate.

Billings County Commissioner Jim Arthaud said he attributes his county's success to jobs in government, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, energy and tourism.