Its the latest American gold rush, and Idaho is all in. In the past year or two, hundreds of Idahoans have migrated to the oil fields of North Dakota for work. Hundreds more are making livings off North Dakota oil without leaving Idaho.
A woman who answered the phone at a truck parts store in Williston, N.D., said some of her co-workers now refer to their home state as North Dakidaho.
Seems like we see more Idaho plates nowadays than we see North Dakota plates, said the clerk, who asked that her name not be used.
Larry Givens is one of those transplants. He left Eagle in September for a job managing two oil tankers.
If his name isnt familiar to you, it should be. Givens was a high-end custom home builder in Idaho for the past 40 years was being the opportune word.
He was $3 million into and one-fourth of the way through building a home for a couple of celebrities when the Tamarack resort closed its doors and the clients put the house on hold. Givens was left with no other jobs in the pipeline. The feeble economy pummeled him further. The death blow to his business came from his final client, who Givens says skipped out and left him with enormous bills and subcontractors wanting to be paid.
We were at wits end, Givens says from the home he and his wife now rent in Eagle. We had exhausted every financial opportunity. We sold our house of 33 years. We sold everything to stay alive and pay off our subs.
Givens, who will turn 60 in a few months, says he couldnt find any jobs or anyone who would hire him here in Idaho.
He says the money is good, but running two oil tankers 24/7 keeps him away from home for four to six weeks at a time.
It is the toughest thing Ive ever done, keeping the schedule running, dealing with flat tires, trucks breaking down. I miss my wife and my family. But this is a good opportunity at my age and a good opportunity for me to rebuild what I lost.
MAKING BIG MONEY IN TRUCKING OIL
Terry Christensen is the man who offered Givens the job in North Dakota. Christensen is one of the owners of Nampas Benchmark Construction, which builds mostly manufacturing buildings. Like most everyone tied to construction, he felt his business constricting. He saw great potential in tapping into the North Dakota oil boom.
With construction, there is a constant ebb and flow to the business, he says. With oil, its kind of like a milk cow. Those wells just keep filling up, and theyve got to be drained.
Christensen bought two oil tankers and is ready to buy a third. Right now with two trucks running nonstop, we are producing $30,000 to $40,000 in revenue a week, he says. I dont know of many businesses pulling in that kind of money on a weekly basis.
The prospect of making money like that is drawing Idahoans east. That and the fact that, for many in the construction trade, work has been elusive. Christensen has six employees working for him in North Dakota, including Givens. All are Idahoans. Five were in the construction industry and couldnt keep their businesses alive when housing collapsed.
ONCE HE BUILT PATIOS. NOW HES BUILDING SEVERAL BUSINESSES.
Winter and the anemic economy combined to put Eagles Lance Manning into panic mode. We burned through our savings fast, says the former contractor. Manning specialized in hardscapes: outdoor kitchens, paving and patios.
In North Dakota since January, Manning worked for a short time driving a water truck and then an oil tanker. It didnt take him long to see the potential in owning, rather than driving, a truck. He flew home and talked four other Idahoans into investing.
Today, Manning helps oversee the constant running of two oil tankers with a third truck scheduled for delivery late this month. He and his partners are also building a truck shop, laundromat and RV park on five acres in Arnegard.
Our goal is to build up the business big enough so I only have to go out there for a week a month, Manning says. Currently, hes gone for four weeks at a time and home for two, a brutal schedule for a father with a 6-year-old, 9-year-old and 11-year-old at home.
BOUNCING BACK TO IDAHO
Not all Idahoans whove gone to North Dakota have adjusted. Cascades Rod Lamm moved east in October, armed with a commercial drivers license so he could drive an oil truck. In May he gave his notice, packed up his camp trailer and moved back to Idaho.
North Dakota is really just an existence, he says. There is nothing to do there other than work. I was living in an RV park, and I use that term loosely. It was leveled-off dirt dusty and muddy or freezing.
Lamm, 57, spent 35 years building high-end homes in the Valley. You might remember his Diamond Homes display welcoming travelers who walked through Boises airport. But he invested heavily in land, lots and spec homes that put him over the edge when demand collapsed and land values tumbled.
I felt like I was forced into going to North Dakota, Lamm says. At my age, not a lot of folks are willing to hire, and there was nothing to do here. I had to go out and make some money to survive.
The money attracted him. He was told hed easily make $120,000 a year. But once he got to North Dakota, he realized to make that kind of money, hed have to sacrifice seeing his family in Idaho.
I was working four weeks on and taking two weeks off to go home, he says. But you dont get paid those two weeks. If you want to make that kind of money, you have to work full-time, nonstop.
Times are changing in North Dakota, too, he says: There is still plenty of oil bubbling up out of the ground, but the area has become flooded with investors, trucks and men looking for work.
Lamm says his time there filled a gap, buying time for the Valleys slump to subside and for Idaho construction to start breathing again. He isnt willing to start over completely by rebuilding his business, but he is interviewing and trying to get on with some construction-related companies.
I made up my mind, he says. Im not going back. Its just not worth it. I dont want to live in North Dakota. I want to live with my family in Idaho.
MOBILITY PAYS FOR BOISE COMPANY
Orders from the oil field lead to tripling of its staff
The recession clobbered the construction industry. But Guerdon Enterprises, a Boise modular-home maker, has thrived since the recession began, going from fewer than 100 employees to more than 300 in the past three years.
Credit the North American oil boom.
Guerdon used to make mobile homes. Lad Dawson and partners bought the Guerdon factory in southeast Boise in 2001 from manufactured-home maker American Homestar Corp., where Dawson had been CEO until 2000. They transformed Guerdon into a mainstream modular-home maker, including multifamily homes a strategy that worked until the housing bust began in 2007.
Sales evaporated. Guerdon faced trouble. When the economic downturn began to take effect, we recognized that we had to transform in order to be a sustainable business, he says.
Guerdon executives saw the oil boom in North Dakota and Canada. They thought if they played it right, they could ride the oil gush back to the Treasure Valley.
Guerdon says it is now the largest modular construction company in the West, with $70.6 million in revenues in fiscal year 2011. More than half of that came from projects in North Dakota. Guerdon specializes in building man camps where large numbers of homes are needed fast. The camps include furnished rooms, dining areas and fitness facilities to serve the flood of men working in the oil fields. The housing units frames are shaped like those of single-wide mobile homes, but they can be stacked five high and side by side.
Guerdon has completed three camps in North Dakota. Most of the work and building has been done at Guerdons plant at 5556 Federal Way, Boise.
Professional ballet dancers have nothing over the companys synchronized crews of construction workers. They build huge 60-foot sections of the camp dormitories. The completed modules are shrink-wrapped, put onto a truck and shipped to their destinations, where they are lifted and set into place by cranes.
We can design and build a 600-person lodge in 90 days, Dawson says. That speed to market is critical in this industry.
Guerdon is keeping its employees busy. They recently worked to build a three-story, 206-room hotel that is scheduled to be up and running in North Dakota by late July or early August. The Treasure Valleys housing slump offered Guerdon a bonus. Says Steve Clough, who oversees the companys business development: We were able to pick up some really good talent from the pool of laid-off construction workers who couldnt find work.
Lonni Leavitt-Barker: email@example.com