Amanda Kieson gets calls at 2:30 a.m. to collect urine samples from workers involved in accidents in western North Dakota’s oil industry. She says she opened her testing service two years ago to get a part of the economic bonanza engulfing the region.

“I love my business, which is weird because, you know, with what we actually have to put up with,” said Kieson, 33, the owner of Badlands Occupational Testing Services in Watford City, which has grown to six employees and 24-hour service from demand for post-accident reports and pre-employment drug screening. “We are busy all the time.”

While men dominate the manual-labor jobs on the rigs, women are exercising entrepreneurial zeal in opening services ranging from oil well geology to occupational testing to child care and medical clinics in western North Dakota. Local authorities and company executives say the women – and the businesses they’re creating – are needed to sustain the economic boost.

“There are great opportunities for women,” said Kathy Neset, 57, president of Neset Consulting Service. “Whatever skill you have, we need it in western North Dakota.”

Neset started the company, which provides geological services to oil companies, in 1980 with her husband in Tioga, 580 miles northwest of Minneapolis and 95 miles from Watford City. It now employs 180 people.

She often gives presentations at elementary and middle schools in the upper Midwest, encouraging girls to pursue careers as geologists to land jobs paying $80,000 to $140,000 a year. More than a fifth of her employees are women, cutting rock samples and detecting natural gas and oil, she said.

Outreach like Neset’s is part of an effort to solve North Dakota’s staffing challenges. The state’s 3.3 percent unemployment rate in February was the lowest in the country and compared with 7.6 percent nationally in March.

The worker shortage is particularly acute in service industries dominated by women, such as health care, local authorities say.

“People will come here to work for the oil companies, and they will make good money, but when they just come by themself, you no longer have a teenager to work at McDonald’s, or a spouse that might be a nurse at the hospital,” said Ward Koeser, mayor of Williston, about an hour from Watford City and also in the heart of the oil boom. “So the service sector is what’s really suffering right now.”

A lack of child care centers prevents some women from working. Mary Krowczyk moved back to Williston in 2011 to be closer to her family. While she found a job at the local branch of American State Bank and Trust the first day she started looking, she quit recently to stay home to care for her 8-month-old daughter.

“The decision was made based on a few issues, but difficulties with day care definitely played an enormous role,” Krowczyk said in an email.

Other women opt out of the job market because their husbands earn enough money in the oil business to sustain the family. The average annual salary in North Dakota’s mining industry was $94,484 in 2012, while nurse practitioners, a female-dominated occupation, earned $61,970, according to the North Dakota Workforce Intelligence Network, a state-run website.

While women’s wages in North Dakota grew faster than men’s, they’re still below the national average for women, and below the state average for men.

Salaries for women employed full time in North Dakota jumped 22 percent to $32,500 in 2011 from 2006, according to Census data.



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09/29/2017 4:59am

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