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Starting Over in a Boomtown

This Arizona businessman moved to North Dakota to capitalize on the oil-shale bonanza and resurrect his finances.

Andy Kacic, 65, is one of many who have sought opportunity in Williston, N.D., where the unemployment rate is less than 1% and the population is projected to more than double in the next decade. Here is an edited excerpt of our conversation with him about his experience.

KIPLINGER: Why Williston?

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KACIC: I got clocked by the financial crisis of 2008. I tried to reboot myself numerous times, but nothing was happening in Arizona. In 2011, a friend suggested that I come up here to check out the possibilities. On my first visit, I thought, “Geez, business in this town is going nuts! Maybe I should be based here.”

How nuts is nuts? The Bakken Formation is a huge play, and Williston is a boomtown. Companies are drilling 220 wells each month, and each well requires about 2,000 truckloads of something—pipe, sand, water and more—to put in the well and take out the oil. You can imagine the traffic. There will be work here for years.

You know oil and gas? I’ve been in the business since 1978, as well as in investment banking and real estate development. My background helps tremendously. I began building relationships immediately.

What work did you find? I offered my services as a “boots on the ground” consultant in Williston to a lot of my oil-and-gas contacts elsewhere. I’ve partnered with a major trucking company (my son manages its North Dakota division) and a construction company that hauls sand and gravel and builds housing.

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How have you supported yourself? I’m earning base income plus profit-sharing with my partners.

Where are you living? Housing is scarce and expensive. A one-bedroom apartment runs $1,000 a month—two or three times the cost of a same-size apartment in Fargo—and a room with common showers in a barracks-type man camp can run $125 a night. Because of the lack of housing, most guys come up without their families. The ratio of men to women is about nine to one. When my son Jordan and I arrived in August 2011, we camped in the back of my friend’s pizza parlor. We had it good compared with people who were living in their cars in the Walmart parking lot. Now I rent a house with three other businessmen for $3,500 a month, all told. It isn’t the Ritz, but we’re thankful for what we’ve got.

What have you learned about North Dakota? This place—the weather and country roads—beats up your vehicle. I traded in my Cadillac for a 3/4-ton diesel pickup with an engine-block heater to help it start in the winter.

Do you have advice for others? If you’re starting over, this is the place. People who come out here are trying to save their homes, put their kids through school, pay their bills and work themselves out of whatever situation they’re in. They are grateful for the opportunity, in spite of the weather.

Anything else? Dress in layers, and don’t forget your waterproof boots.

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