Dropping oil prices are still on the horizon, including a spiral downward this week, landing (at the time of this writing) at $31.41 a barrel (Brent Crude was down to 31.56), a new 12 year low. Last year when this topic would come up on our Facebook page, the possibility was suggested (Goldman Sachs analysts) that oil could slip as low as 20.00/a barrel. Not many believed it but it seems as if that may actually come to pass. If you believe everything you read, this latest dip has to do with the volatility in Chinese markets. Either way it doesn’t make much of a difference for the people directly affected by this latest plunge in prices.
As of this morning, the active rig count for North Dakota is 54. Compare that with last year at this time, it was 156.
We are now at the point that I spoke about several years ago. When we first arrived in North Dakota in 2012 things were fierce. Every day people were lined up at the public parks sleeping in their cars because while the opportunities were good, the housing situation was dismal. The hours were long (as in 80, 90, 100 and more per week) but most hard working people didn’t object because that’s simply what it took to be successful. From a personal standpoint, we worked the hours. We paid $40,000 a year to rent a dismal home that the owners did not care to maintain. We got involved in the community and our businesses. Along with all the problems that came with our move, we saw the beauty of North Dakota.
Just a short time later in 2014 we decided we wanted to put some permanent roots down. We wanted to invest in a home. Not to flip later but to keep. Something to cultivate and make our own so we could feel finally that we were a real part of North Dakota, not just someone who came in to be exhausted by never ending demands while our landlord held out their greedy little hands every month. If we were going to be exhausted from the time we put in every week, we wanted it to be in our own home. We were pre-approved and decided on an amount that we were comfortable with. One that we felt we could sustain if one of us lost our job. We were excited.
It didn’t last long. Realtor’s wanted to show us houses way out of our price range, continually tried to sell us more than we wanted. It didn’t take long to realize why. There were no houses available in our decided budget. No real houses anyway. I refuse to pay 300,000 for what amounts to a trailer. We even approached a few home owners who were trying to sell on their own. I would later realize was a red flag. They are asking for a very high amount but don’t want to pay the commission? We wanted to see if they would come down to a reasonable amount. They were all self-professed professionals it seems and knew exactly what their home was worth.
Later I would feel vindicated when every one of those home owners would later contact us to say they had reconsidered and would not accept our earlier offer because surprise, their home didn’t sell. No thanks.
So this brings me back to my earlier point. What incentive was made to keep families here? What has the local government done to encourage a new generation of people to lay down roots and stay. Nothing lasts forever and what comes up must come down (sorry for the clique). It makes sense that many of those people coming that came seeking an economic opportunity would go have to go back home. What other choice do they have? The sad reality is that there was a huge opportunity to convert people to the North Dakota way. I feel like not only was this opportunity missed but it was flatly ignored by so many who could have made a difference. Plenty of people agree with my view on this but the ones that have been in a position to speak out and make a difference either did little or didn’t care.
So things are falling, and not just the price of oil. Housing is dropping quickly. You can smell desperation from the rental offices. It wafts out in waves. Some threaten current lease holders while wooing new potential renters with seemingly unbelievable deals to get them to sign. All this while people who actually did pay those outrageous housing prices are finding it hard to keep up with payments now that their hours are gone or they had to suddenly find a new, lower paying job. What about those who find work but there is no temporary housing to live in because the city (ahem with conflicts of interest in this regard) has decided that man camps should no longer be allowed in Williston. Genius.
I have watched comments closely on other websites and social media. There are those that would tell you this is a good thing that they want their town back. They don’t mind everyone leaving so they can get back to the way things used to be. My response to that is, you can never go home again. It won’t go back to the way it was. Not if you want businesses to keep running and people to keep feeding their families. There has been a lot of infrastructure work done in the last few years and much is still planned. You need people to build, use and operate these things. Wishing for people to lose their livelihood, their homes and their ability to feed their families is not the North Dakotan way.
Maybe instead of the Boomtown slogan that was adopted, the city might consider something that appeals to people in a more permanent way, not something temporary. Boomtown’s never last.