There are thousands of compelling stories in North Dakota, specifically in the oil-rich area known as “the Bakken.” The area is drawing people from all over the globe who are looking for a chance to strike it rich, a chance to make a million, or just a chance after years of struggle with low-paying jobs or unemployment in a slow economy.
Mitzi Bestall and her husband Bill Murphy are realtors who made the move to North Dakota in 2010 thanks to a struggling housing market in Colorado.
“We only did eight homes that year, came back the next year as 'Bakken Realty' and we did approximately $10 million in sales that year,” Mitzi told Yahoo Finance when we visited Bakken Realty’s offices in Williston, North Dakota.
For the first year in their adopted hometown, Mitzi and Bill lived in an RV park. Mitzi was the only woman in the complex, and the one bathroom that everyone in the park shared was a port-o-potty.
“The first year, we made about $8,000 up here,” Bill says. “But it was a great education and it’s more than we would have made in Colorado.”
Bernard Voll and June Sheaks have a similar story. Bernard’s trucking job in Indiana was hit hard by the recession. He found himself on an unsuccessful job hunt until one night when a story on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams gave him an idea. “There was a piece on the great job rush in North Dakota,” he says. “I got up and got on my laptop, looked up N-Djobs.com and was blown away by all the opportunity and all the jobs.”
Bernard borrowed a thousand dollars from his sister, drove from Indiana to Williston and soon had several offers to choose from. But with the family in Indiana still struggling to find its way out from under $250,000 of debt, Bernard’s life in Williston was anything but easy. He lived in an attic room for his first two months in town, showered at a local fitness center and delivered pizzas at night after driving a truck full of oil equipment during the day.
June followed not long after and soon was delivering pizzas herself to make ends meet.
“I was working as a bookkeeper during the day,” she told us. “We were both delivering pizzas in the evening because it’s really not bad money.”
But that soon changed when June was approached by a small business owner in town who was selling her company.
“I didn’t even have to come up with a lot of money up front so I paid her off over time,” she says.
The business, Executive Services, is a job placement company. Bernard and June estimate sales were about $250,000 annually when they bought it four years ago. This year, they estimate sales will be somewhere around $3.4 million.
As sales have grown, so have expenses - like hiring more staff - but Bernard and June made enough to get out of debt and build a new life on the Bakken.
Bernard, June, Mitzi and Bill all had to rough it when they arrived in North Dakota, but now, the Bakken offers something that would be difficult to leave.
As Mitzi told us before we left, “When you’ve been away and you come back to Williston... you’ll feel the energy... something we thrive on... and it is fantastic.”