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Stark County mining, oil, gas wages steadily increasing

Stark County companies pay the big bucks for mining and oil and gas extraction. The county paid the highest wages in the third quarter of 2011, allowing employees to pocket more than $2,000 a week, according to a Job Service North Dakota report released Tuesday.

"You guys are kind of a legacy oil and gas county," said Michael Ziesch manager of Job Service Labor Market Information Center in Bismarck. "You had some of the early wells ... and now, with the resurgence and coming back, you can see through the wages how the oil and exploration has come back."

Average weekly wages for mining have increased steadily from 1990 to 2008. Wages suddenly jumped from about $1,350 in the 2008 third quarter to almost $1,550 in 2009. Those wages increased by another $200 in 2010.

Last year's pay raise of almost $300 was the biggest increase from quarter to quarter in more than 20 years.

There are a number of factors in deciding wages, Ziesch said. Overtime wages, corporate headquarters locations and labor market are some of those factors.

"If you guys have a tighter labor market, that might force companies to pay a higher wage to keep employees due to competition," he said.

It is no surprise that wages are high in Dickinson, said Gaylon Baker, Stark Development Corporation executive vice president in Dickinson, but the news is good for the city, he added.

"I think the higher wage earners are picking Dickinson," he said.

The strong wages are "a tribute to the economic development team in Dickinson," said Vicki Steiner, North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties executive director in Dickinson.

"We had rail, we had land availability and we had water," she said. "All those resources are becoming more limited, but I think when the build out began, we had positioned ourselves to accept some of the growth."

Mining had the largest employment growth in Dickinson by adding 364 positions in 2010, a 59 percent expansion. Stark County had 2,600 employees in the mining industry in the 2011 third quarter, almost double the employment of the same time last year, according to Job Service.

"That just shows the desirability of Stark County," Ziesch said. "Everyone is trying to get out in front of the shifting."

Steiner added that the oil and gas industry is "not easy work."

"It is a tremendous opportunity for a good salary," she said. "It's reflective that our area has opportunity for our young people."

Ziesch said he didn't see any reason why mining wages in Stark County wouldn't continue to rise in upcoming years.