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In ND, companies looking for work and workers are "Rockin' the Bakken"

MINOT, N.D. - Bob Mau's oil well service company, Eagle Operating, of Kenmare, used to refurbish the workover rigs it uses to complete and maintain wells.

But Mau and his associates decided it was so much work they could just as well build a completely new rig and incorporate features and improvements not found on other such rigs.

So Mau, his cousin Tom, and Greg Wiedmer started MW Industries.

"A lot of it is our own design. We've got patents," said Bob Mau, owner and president, standing next to a brand new rig on display in the State Fair Center in Minot on Monday. It was easily the biggest exhibit of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference and Expo.

"This one we sold for $975,000, said Wiedmer, the company salesman. "And the price has gone up since then."

Vice President Tom Mau said the company will turn out nine new workover rigs this year and probably 12 to 15 next year.

The expo this year drew more than twice the particpants as last year, and brought in people and companies from 27 states, four Canadian provinces and at least two European countries, said North Dakota Petroleum Council PResident Ron Ness. He said booth space was sold out more than a month in advance, with interest climbing after a federal report said North Dakota's Bakken formation holds billions of barrels of oil.

The expo attracted longtime North Dakota oil patch business like Mau and Baker Hughes, as well as companies just looking to get into the game, like Park Construction Co. of Grand Forks, which does heavy duty contracting such as dams, roads and excavating.

Michael Nottestad, project manager, said the company is interested in roadwork and the earthmoving involved in creating a flat pad for drilling rigs.

"That's kind of the piece of the pie we're trying to get--a little bit of that market," he said. He said they hadn't firmed up any work by the end of the day, but had made valuable contacts and learned a lot about what the work would involve.

Park does a lot of work in Wyoming for railroads, so it is used to working in areas where it is a challenge to find workers.

"We've got a lot of people in eastern North Dakota that are willing to travel," he said. "And we provide housing."

Tom Rolfstad, longtime economic development director in Williston, has spent many years trying to attract jobs to the city. But now his job is trying to find workers for the surplus of jobs that have developed with the expanding oil industry.

Rolfstad and other Williston officials blanketed the expo with "Rockin' the Bakken" bumper stickers, shirts and doo-dads, as part of their ongoing effort to recruit workers to the area.

"We feel we needed something catchy," he said while staffing the Williston booth at the expo. And the Bakken oil formation that has caused an up-tick in drilling is a rock formation, so it fits.

It may be a challenge to get the people to western North Dakota from a place like Michigan, but "the people who do come out and spend some time out here find we're kind of a Mayberry (lifestyle)," Rolfstad said. For instance, they are shocked that kids can safely walk to school. "That's what captivates people as much as anything," he said.