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Christmas in the Bakken Formation: North Dakota city sees growth from fracking industry

Sherry and Elijah.jpg

Sherri Knapp and her husband Elijah Moyo will spend the holidays together for the first time in nearly three years as they continue to build a new and prosperous life in the Bakken region of North Dakota.Courtesy of Sherri Knapp

It’s Christmas in Boomtown.

Williston, N.D., is ground zero in America's energy renaissance, with six-figure salaries the norm and stunning prosperity that extends from the oil and gas derricks to the construction, sales and service industries. But for much of the burgeoning population that has converged on Williston and other towns on the Bakken Formation, Christmas will be spent where the jobs, not the loved ones, are.

Not so for Sherri Knapp and Elijah Moyo, who are reunited this year as Moyo settles in to his lucrative new life as a crane operator. Knapp has traveled north from Florida to join her husband as they make their new home in prosperous Williston.

“It’s wonderful. Things are a lot better,” Knapp told FoxNews.com. “Last year he came home two weeks before the holiday, but this year we will be together on Christmas.”

The story of Moyo, originally from Zimbabwe, is not unlike many of the thousands of men drawn to the modern-day gold rush in the once sleepy state. The couple was living in their new home in Florida when Moyo sought the builder to pose a question about the dishwasher. He found his man - in North Dakota.

"He said he was in North Dakota building homes," Kapp said. "When Elijah asked him why he was up there he asked her husband if he had heard about the oil production.

Moyo quit the two jobs he held to make ends meet and went north and try to find opportunity. He started out as dishwasher at one of the worker camps. But soon after, he had earned his crane operator’s license, and 14 months later he found a big-paying job with Basin Concrete. He said he earns four times what he made working two jobs in Florida.

With an unemployment rate of just one percent, Williston is booming. Homes and new businesses are being built daily as more workers arrive seeking steady work. Like Moyo, they typically send for their families one they settle in.  Williston is braced to expand from just 12,000 residents to an estimated 90,000 within 15 years.

“We’re growing as fast as you can grow,” Lee Lusht, president of the Williston Chamber of Commerce, told FoxNews.com. “We’ve built 2,500 units of housing this year."

Nearly $350 million in building permits was issued in 2013 in Williston, on everything from businesses to apartment buildings to single family homes, as a transient population of adventurous roughnecks takes root.

“We’re very busy," Angela Jennings, a real estate agent with Bakken Realty, told FoxNews.com. "It hasn’t stopped."

The money that flows from the oil and gas fields is attracting a new wave of entrepreneurs. Marcus Jundt moved to Williston from Arizona last year after seeing the potential for business growth. He and a partner have invested $15 million in ventures including a restaurant and a bar called the Williston Brewing Company. He said he was stunned to see the propserity -- and opportunity -- in Williston.

“What I saw was mind-boggling,” Jundt told the Grand Forks Herald. “It was just amazing what was going on up here.

“If you truly, truly want to participate in this boom, you have to live here,” he added. “You have to be where the action is.”

Moyo and Knapp's luck continued when they won an apartment "lottery" held by his employer. The two-bedroom home meant Moyo could move out of a temporary "man camp," as well as send for his wife and brother, who also has found good-paying work in Williston.

“Things are really good,” said Knapp, who has found work in Williston's busy employment services office. 

 

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