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Nadolny: A new Bakken ‘boom’

Baby boom (noun): a marked rise in birthrate (as in the United States immediately following the end of World War II).

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The epicenter of the nation’s energy boom is the Bakken. Evidence exists to suggest a possibly louder and maybe even more-welcome boom than the oil boom: the baby boom. Over the past year, 12 percent of Williston State employees went on maternity leave. The baby boom, like the oil boom, is changing the way we live and work.

A decade ago, Mercy Medical could expect anywhere from 200 to 300 births in any given year. Today, 100 births are projected in November alone. In 2015, Mercy may reach as many as 1,200 births.

The baby boom is the latest development in understanding Williston’s ranking as the fastest-growing micropolitan city in the country (with populations between 10,000 and 50,000). Thanks in part to the baby boom, Williams County now has the country’s largest decline in the average age of its population – 1.6 years.

The baby boom’s impact extends well beyond population growth and age. The parents of this latest generation of baby boomers are impacting the workplace. High local wages, high employee turnover and lack of day care create a highly competitive labor market. Secondary wage earners become increasingly attractive to organizations like the college.

Today, Williston State College employees are primarily secondary wage earners creating new challenges for both employees and the workplace. When a child is ill (10 times on average in a child’s first year), it is typically the secondary wage earner who misses work to care for the child.

Additionally, the college (again the result of the oil boom and an entirely separate story) has experienced a marked increase in the number of female employees. Recent research from the University of New Hampshire concludes: “Although employed mothers and fathers have similar access to paid sick days to care for a sick child, mothers more often miss work to care for a sick child.”

Last week, in the middle of the college’s senior leadership meeting, I was taken off-guard by some soft cooing. Looking beyond the other end of the boardroom table, I could just barely make out the handle of a stroller. The high percentage of employees with babies combined with a critical lack of child care has changed our business model, even at the college’s senior leadership table.

The college recently launched a task force made up of new parents to provide guidance on ways to be more responsive and supportive in a baby boom workplace.

So what does the future hold? Recent events suggest the Bakken may be a lot bigger than originally anticipated. New signs of life are being felt in the Torquay, or Three Forks, formation with reports of wells paying back in as little as seven months. The only question that remains: Would a surge in the oil boom lead to a surge in the baby boom?

Williston State’s mission of “Where the people make the difference” creates a safe haven for baby boomers. Babies indeed are making a difference. So despite a small labor pool, employee turnover and hyperinflation, northwest North Dakota, indeed Williston State College, may be the most blessed place on earth.

Nadolny, Ph.D., is president,

Williston State College.