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Oil Workers: A (possible) new study.

Studies have predicted North Dakota’s population will continue to increase as a result of oil activity. Now researchers want to know where those workers want to live.

Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund, researchers with the Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department at North Dakota State University, have started planning for a workforce characteristic study, the two told attendees of the Bakken Construction Summit in Bismarck Wednesday. The new study will accompany their previous study on projected population, investment and jobs numbers in oil field counties.

Hodur said research methods have not yet been finalized but she and Bangsund want to reach out to members of the workforce in the form of personal interviews with industry professionals, focus groups and written surveys. They hope to start by the first of the year.

Hodur said they want to find out a number of things like: where workers are living, where they’re from, where they would like to live, how old they are, if they’re married and if they have kids.

Bangsund said the interest in the study came from work Hodur did with school enrollment. Hodur said schools in the oilfields were seeing a churn. Enrollment was the same but it was not the same kids.

Bangsund said a sector of the workforce in oil field counties view North Dakota as a place where they’re working, not a place to call home. If those people are going home, they’re spending the dollars they make in North Dakota elsewhere.

“They’re different than people that view that job as a career,” he said. He added that many of the positions identified as permanent also are seeing high turnover.

“We can identify permanent jobs but we don’t know if the people doing them want to be permanent residents,” he said.

Hodur said by identifying these things, she and Bangsund are hopeful they will be able to provide builders with insight into the type of housing workers want, whether it be single family housing, starter homes, apartments or man camps.

Not a lot of work has been done to assess demand, Hodur said. She said the study’s findings may reveal a disconnect between what types of housing people want and what is being built. It also may reveal affordability issues. For example, some of the workers coming to North Dakota may have problems getting financing because of a bad credit history or may be locked into a home because of a down real estate market where they’re from.

Hodur said the project will probably take about a year to complete. Which areas they would gather data from has not been decided but Bangsund said it would ideally include a wide geographic base and mix of job types from oil field service workers to gas plant workers.

“No one has asked the industry,” Hodur said.

Hodur said it is unknown whether workers want to live in larger communities where their wife can go shopping and they can go golfing every day, whether they want to commute to work sites or if they would rather live close to where they work.

Hodur said she and Bangsund hope to use the workforce characteristic study to refine, expand and update their origingal study.

People employed directly by the oil industry is expected to peak at 45,000 to 60,000 in 2020 and slowly taper off to about 38,000 permanent workers in 25 years, according to Hodur and Bangsund’s first study.

Bangsund said the petroleum industry grows in the boom stage then contracts in the production stage, employing mostly oil field service and maintenance personnel.

The temporary workers present for the booming exploration stage are predicted to stay for the next six to 10 years and will need temporary housing. For permanent housing, the study predicts 27,661 units will be needed in the Williston area between 2010 and 2030, 15,252 will be needed in Minot and 15,154 will be needed in Dickinson.

Hodur said it is not a matter of if, but when, the population of Williston and Williams County will increase by 20,000 people and the population of Minot and surrounding areas will increase by 23,000 people.

Hodur said she doesn’t see any danger of overbuilding in the near term but housing supply numbers will need to be updated. She said growth will depend on whether needed housing is built.

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