Survey: Most out-of-state oil workers not interested in moving to ND

BISMARCK - More than 80 percent of nonresidents working in North Dakota's oil and gas industry don't want to put down roots in the state, while those who want to relocate see housing costs as a major barrier, researchers found in a survey release...

North Dakota State University research assistant professor Nancy Hodur shares the results of a workforce survey of the state's oil and gas industry on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, at the Ramkota Hotel in Bismarck, N.D. (Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service)

BISMARCK – More than 80 percent of nonresidents working in North Dakota’s oil and gas industry don’t want to put down roots in the state, while those who want to relocate see housing costs as a major barrier, researchers found in a survey released Tuesday.

Results of the survey by North Dakota State University researchers Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund were presented Tuesday to a few hundred real estate agents, lenders, property developers, city officials and others at the state Housing Finance Agency’s annual conference in Bismarck.

The researchers surveyed 15 firms representing 8,100 employees from across the industry in late 2014 and mid-2015. The companies agreed to email the questionnaire to their employees, and 1,668 workers responded, about 30 percent of them being from out of state, Hodur said.

When asked if they would like to move to North Dakota, only 19 percent of nonresident workers said yes.

“I thought that was one of the more startling statistics out of this,” said Hodur, an assistant professor in NDSU’s Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics.


Those workers most frequently cited the high cost of housing and the fear that home values would someday fall below current prices as factors affecting their ability to relocate.

“It’s not because the weather’s too cold. It’s not because they think North Dakota’s a lousy place to raise a family” or that the state’s schools are lacking, Hodur said in an interview. “It’s because it’s too expensive.”

The cost of housing also was a factor for those who don’t want to move to North Dakota. But they more often mentioned family and friends as the biggest factor, she said.

Housing Finance Agency Executive Director Jolene Kline said the agency has tried to address the cost issue through its Housing Incentive Fund, which reduces developers’ debt so they can set cheaper rates for new apartments and rental units. Those who contribute to the fund get a dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit.

Still, “That’s concerning to us, and we need to figure out how to get rid of some of these barriers to make those folks permanent residents,” she said.

Hodur said the survey identified two distinct workforces in the oil and gas industry: nonresident workers who more frequently had jobs related to transportation and field operations such as well maintenance, fracking and drilling, and resident workers who were more likely to hold professional, managerial and administrative support jobs.

The survey also found that:

-- Nearly 55 percent of nonresident workers lived in man camps or other housing providing by their employers, compared with just 6 percent of resident workers. Around 30 percent of both groups lived in rental housing, while 61 percent of resident workers lived in owner-occupied housing, compared with just 4 percent of nonresidents.


-- Of the nonresidents who didn’t want to move to North Dakota, about 58 percent lived in crew camps, compared with 34 percent of those who wanted to move. They also were less likely to rent.

-- Nearly 63 percent of nonresidents worked 11 or more days in a row, and a similar percentage had at least six days off in a row, enabling the “super commuters” to return to their home states.

Given the statistics and stakeholder interviews conducted as part of the survey, Hodur said the long-term presence of a commuting workforce is “quite likely” and there may be continued demand for temporary housing, which she acknowledged is “a bit of a hot topic these days.” Several Oil Patch communities are considering phasing out or putting restrictions on crew camps.

“If we do see activities that ratchet up, and we have no temporary housing, there is no relief valve,” she said. “There is no overflow valve for those workers to lay their head and get a bite to eat.”

In Williston, where city leaders have adopted a ban that will force crew camps within a mile of city limits to shut down by June 30, Mayor Howard Klug said things “have changed immensely” since the survey ended in July, and the city is ready for an upswing in oil activity. Rental rates have dropped by as much as half as new units have come online, hotel vacancy rates are up and single-family home prices have softened, he said.

“We have plenty of housing available for them on a short-term basis or longer-term basis,” he said.

A statewide housing needs assessment due by the end of June will further quantify housing needs, Kline said.

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