Grand Forks looks to capitalize on oil boomOil is the resource that makes western North Dakota boom, but parts of east North Dakota are trying to attract a piece of the west’s activity by promoting resources that are increasingly scarce in the west: workers and homes.
By: Christopher Bjork, The Dickinson Press
Oil is the resource that makes western North Dakota boom, but parts of east North Dakota are trying to attract a piece of the west’s activity by promoting resources that are increasingly scarce in the west: workers and homes.
“We would be located in the west if we could find housing or people,” said Rodger Pearson, Grand Forks division manager for the Steffes Corp.
Steffes is a Dickinson manufacturer that began making steel products for the oil field in 2007 and had its business double since then. But when it needed to expand its production, it purchased a building and equipment on U.S. Highway 2 west of Grand Forks rather than try to recruit and retain workers in the west.
“The workers come, they survive, live, make some money and go back home,” Pearson said about labor market around Dickinson. “Just around the time they’re getting productive, they go back home.”
Steffes plans to employ 25 in Grand Forks by the end of the year to make oil tanks and other steel products for oil companies in the west.
It is trading proximity to its customers for a more stable labor and housing markets, and it is a choice that Grand Forks regional leaders hope more companies make as the boom puts more pressure on Oil Patch towns.
“Companies need facilities, they need employees and they need access to the Bakken outside of the Bakken,” said Grand Forks City Council President Hal Gershman, who is a Bakken Initiative organizer, which tries to attract companies doing business in the oil play.
The focus of the initiative is not to steal business from western towns, he said, but to market the region to growing companies like Steffes that are struggling to expand under the constraints of a boom.
Steffes specializes in steel products for well sites, including tanks, platforms, stairways and equipment to treat the oil pumped from the wells.
On Thursday, Pearson was in the Grand Forks facility overseeing workers producing cattle guards and water knock-outs — devices that separate water from oil. The company purchased a building and equipment owned by Pribbs Steel.
A company working in a similar market is Diverse Energy Systems of Grafton which was Lean Technologies until its purchase by the Houston-based company.
“The growth potential we’re envisioning is being driven by the people we can find,” said spokesman Scott Muster. “Right now, I’m looking for 50 welders between now and Jan. 1.”
He said the company should have 100 employees in Grafton by the end of the year and possibly 200 by 2014.