Williston, North Dakota: Boom Town

Employment is growing at a faster rate in Williston, North Dakota than anywhere else in the U.S.  Williston is located in northwest North Dakota, about 70 miles south of the U.S.-Canadian border.  Northwest North Dakota is the center of the Bakken oil boom, which has dwarfed any other energy booms in North Dakota and Montana.  The employment boom in Williston over the past two years is one of the most dramatic since the U.S. Department of Labor began collecting local employment and unemployment data.

Williston is a small city (a micropolitan area according to the Census Bureau) where employment grew modestly from 1990 to 2005 and by 10% per year from 2005 to 2010, despite the global recession.  Growth in Williston really began to take off about two years ago.  The unemployment rate in Williston is 0.7%, or 1/11 of the U.S. unemployment rate.  Over the past two years employment has grown by more than 40% per year which is 26 times faster than in the rest of the U.S. and over 29 times faster than growth in Williston prior to 2005.  To put this into perspective employment in Williston is now increasing by the same number of jobs every four days that used to be created each year from 1990 to 2005.

The following chart shows that employment has doubled in Williston in the past two years.  Between 1990 and 2005 employment grew in Williston at an annual rate of 1.37%.  Over the past two years employment in Williston has grown by 2.86% per month.

Willis1

There are growing pains associated with the employment boom.  The latest data from the Williston police department indicate that both property crimes and violent crimes have increased substantially in Williston, but roughly in proportion to the increase in employment.  The following charts compare the growth in crimes reported by the Williston Police Department to the growth in employment.

Willis2

Willis3

Williston is the quintessential energy boom town.  Employment is growing at an astronomical rate.  Wages are also rising — starting pay for high school graduates now tops $50,000 in the energy boom areas in North Dakota and Montana.  The average weekly wage in North Dakota has risen by 27.1% over the past three years, or 5.2 times faster than in he U.S. overall.  As employment has grown so quickly in such a short time the cost of rental housing has soared and the number of violent and property crimes have increased substantially.  These are just some of the growing pains associated with an economic boom.

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