Slipping from first to second place, sparsely populated Oliver County saw average wages increase by 2.5 percent from $71,719 in 2016 to $73,522 in 2017, but it wasn’t enough to capture first place which went to oil-rich Williams County. That county, which contains the city of Williston, saw wages increase 6 percent from $69,997 to $74,287 as the price of oil rose and drilling in the Bakken increased.
Statistics released by the North Dakota Job Service showed that average wages in North Dakota increased 3 percent in the preceding year reaching $50,313 statewide in 2017. Average wages in North Dakota grew in 2017 for the first time in three years. The highest average wages in the state were recorded in 2014 during the heart of Bakken Boom.
Besides Oliver County, two other coal counties were also in the top 10 for highest average wages. Mercer County, home to Beulah, three power plants, the synfuels plant and two mines, came in fourth place.
McLean County, which contains the state’s largest power plant – the Coal Creek Station – and the adjacent Falkirk Mine was ranked eighth.
From 1993 until 2010, Oliver County consistently had the highest average wages in North Dakota – thanks primarily to the jobs at BNI Coal’s Center Mine and the Milton R. Young Station, operated by Minnkota Power Cooperative. It was tops in wages in 2016 with McKenzie County – home to Watford City — coming in second place.
The top 10 counties for highest average wages all came from areas known for energy development. After first place Williams County and second place Oliver were the following: McKenzie at $70,987, Mercer at $70,478, Dunn at $68,365, Mountrail at $65,544, Stark at $58,998, McLean at $56,012, Slope at $55,800, and Burke at $53,032. Job Service North Dakota compiles the list of average wages by counties annually.
“The 2017 data from Job Service shows the strong influence energy production continues to have on North Dakota’s economy,” said Steve Van Dyke, vice president of communications for the Lignite Energy Council. “Between the oil and coal industry’s impact on wages, the state of North Dakota continues to benefit from thousands of high paying jobs. Employment in the lignite industry has remained steady over the past three decades and these jobs at the mines and plants reflect some of the highest wages in the state as they produce low-cost, reliable electricity for approximately 2 million customers in the Upper Midwest.”
“Because of the state’s lignite industry, North Dakotans have a reliable and affordable supply of electricity and the state benefits from the industry’s high paying jobs,” said Jason Bohrer, president of the Lignite Energy Council. “The industry has been a stable, mainstay in the state since the mid-1980s when several of the largest lignite-based power plants were built and began operating.”
Bohrer noted that North Dakota’s government has been proactive in advocating for policies that support a growing energy economy. The Empower Commission was established to bring all facets of the energy industry together to fashion public policy that benefits all energy sources instead of picking winners and losers.