How to get rich: Move to Bismarck, ND, and work in the Bakken oil reserve

Jobs on the Bakken reserve oilfield are paying unskilled workers as much as $120,000 a year. Even a local McDonald’s is paying $20 an hour.

This post is part of our long-running “How to get rich” series. Click see all the posts.

Hindsight is 20/20. I could have went to college and studied programming for mobile phones. I could have been a mid- to senior-level programmer by 2007 when the first-generation iPhone came out. I could have founded a mobile game development company and, well, started driving a Bentley.

No such luck. But I tell that what-if story to illustrate the point that we often identify trends in business long before that trend goes worldwide. But most of us don’t do a damn thing about it. A prime example of this is the newspaper industry. They reported on the Internet every day, while at the same time clinging to a print-first mentality that let younger, more nimble news start-ups steal eyeballs from them on the Web.

Like Wayne Gretzky skating to where the puck is going, we need to identify trends and get on the leading edge of them. This doesn’t mean we need to go to college and learn how to program applications for iPads. Getting on the leading edge of a trend could be as simple as an unemployed person in a town with high unemployment moving to a city where there are lots of high-paying jobs to be had.

Let’s take Bismarck, N.D. for instance. Forbes columnist Rich Karlgaard points out that the discovery of a major oilfield (the Bakken reserve) has lead to a surging job market where “unskilled laborers can make up to $120,000 a year.” The work’s 12 hours a day, seven days a week, two weeks on, two weeks off (and you might have to live in a barracks-like “man camp”), but there’s money to be had. Even a McDonald’s in the town of Williston is paying $20 an hour for counter help.

The whole thing sounds too good to be true. So I got on some job boards and starting looking for oilfield jobs in North Dakota. Lo and behold, I found at least one that’s willing to pay people with no experience up to $80,000 a year. You just have to be able to lift 50 pounds and stay alert for 12 hours in a row. Here’s the posting (and here’s a PDF screenshot of the posting for posterity in case the posting is ever taken down). The pay range is listed in the right-hand column at $50,000-$80,000 a year.

The world belongs to those who see opportunities and find ways to exploit them. It doesn’t matter if those opportunities are in our backyards or 2,000 miles away.

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