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High Walmart wages: Why this store pays workers more than $17 an hour

Kevin Chupka
Executive Producer/Writer

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of four stories on the booming oil town of Williston, ND and the impact of the U.S. shale revolution. Click back next week for more!

One of highest paying Walmart (WMT) stores in the country is not near a bustling metropolis or sandwiched between tony suburbs. It’s in the small and remote town of Williston, North Dakota, surrounded by rolling plains and oil fields.

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The store's manager Josh Comer says, "We’re starting out at $17 or more per hour currently here just due to the cost of living here in Williston." (The rapid growth in population means housing development has not caught up, resulting in relatively high rents and housing prices.)

Workers flocked to this remote town in 2010 to work in the booming oil industry. Companies paid high salaries to just about anyone with a pulse, and so to compete for the best workers the Walmart here has raised their minimum pay.

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Yolanda Robinson is the department manager of ladies' wear at the Williston store. Her husband came to work in the oil fields and she tells us she left her $8 per hour healthcare job in Florida to follow him ... and got a big raise in the process.

There are "better opportunities here in Williston, North Dakota than in Florida," she told Yahoo Finance.

Comer says Yolanda’s story is not unique, noting: "We’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in applicants across the nation coming to Williston to find work."

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But high pay isn’t the only thing that sets this Walmart apart. This store sells all kinds of special gear that oil workers need, which you won't find at the chain's other stores around the country. Best sellers include fire resistant clothes and boots that keep workers feet warm in rough winters. Comer told us his store also sells a lot of Irish Spring soap, which oil workers use to clean up after a dirty day on the rig.

A crowd gathers outside the Walmart in Williston, ND where workers' starting wage is more than $17 an hour

This location is also one of the company's busiest stores. It closes for just twelve hours a week – from Saturday at midnight to Sunday at noon.

When it re-opens, crowds of people are waiting outside to do their week's shopping. The big rush of business had led some in town to complain that the store often runs out of key items, something Comer says the store has worked hard to correct. It does that by unpacking ten trailers full of goods every day!

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