North Dakota man camps may be temporary housing in oil country, but companies like Target Logistics have found a way to make them last beyond the boom.
Target Logistics and Capital Lodge are two of the largest man camp builders in the state. Target Logistics has 11 sites with a total of 4,390 beds in three western counties. All of its sites are chosen by client demand.
“We build with an anchor tenant,” said Target Logistics Chief Executive Officer Brian Lash. “We don’t build and hope people will come.”
Capital Lodge, which has a 560-bed facility on 83 acres outside Tioga, took the “Field of Dreams” approach. If you build it, they will come — and they did come. Major companies moved their workers in and every bed stays full.
“It’s actually taken off a little more than we expected,” said Kasha Mason, vice president of public relations.
The owner of Capital Lodge, Kenny Lobell, was no greenhorn to the housing industry, Mason said. He is a developer throughout the Gulf Coast, but this was the first time he gave one of his developments wheels.
“He was basically like everybody else,” Mason said. “He saw an opportunity and decided to take it.”
Target Logistics, on the other hand, has been building temporary housing since 1978. It started out working for IBM and Motorolla, providing transportation and doing the logistics for events. It provided housing for special events like the Olympics in Vancouver and constructed a temporary “city” for a Harley-Davidson event.
As things progressed, Lash said, the company started working for government entities like the State Department and the Pentagon, “housing the men and women who protect our country from terrorism.” The company also provided housing for troops in Iraq. Then it got into the oil, gas and mining industry.
“As the Bakken started growing so much, we grew with it,” Lash said. “We became more and more important to the oil industry.”
All of Target Logistics’ lodges have a dining room that serves three meals a day and provides 24/7 unlimited access to food, a recreation room, a TV sports lounge as well as TVs and DVDs in each individual room, a gym with saunas, an Internet cafe, meeting rooms, a microwave and refrigerator in each room, housekeeping services, Wi-Fi and a free self-service laundry.
Rooms can have private baths, a shared bath or dorm style with bathrooms down the hall. Tenants can also choose to live in two-bed cabins with a kitchen, dining area and bathroom.
Capital Lodge also has its share of amenities. A swimming pool, jacuzzi, weight room and full size 24-hour kitchen serving two full meals and a bag lunch.
Mason said the private rooms are more like hotel rooms with two beds, a bathroom and a walk-in closet.
Both Capital Lodge and Target Logistics have zero tolerance policies. Alcohol, drugs, firearms, harassment and cohabitation are not allowed.
“We don’t allow anything that is going to cause any kind of friction,” Lash said.
Target Logistics facilities are fenced with controlled entry access cards and a guard on duty for 24-hour security.
“We’re housing 1 percent of the state of North Dakota,” Lash said.
Besides North Dakota, Target Logistics has a mining camp in Arizona, an oil camp in Mexico and several oil camps in Texas. Additional lodges with more than 2,000 total beds will begin construction in North Dakota and Texas during 2012.
“By far, North Dakota has the bulk of our inventory,” Lash said.
Target Logistics’ modular facilities are built in factories and then shipped to the site. Once the company has land and contracts signed with oil companies, it takes about 120 days to have a camp up and running Lash said.
“It’s not uncommon to pick up and move to another location,” Lash said.
The three-story Muddy River Lodge is made up of 195 shipping containers. It was originally used at the Vancouver Olympics before being dismantled and brought to Williston.
At Capital Lodge, the only permanent structure is a dome that houses the camp kitchen and recreation facilities.
“It’s pretty easy to pick up and move,” Mason said.
Mason said if the oil boom ever goes bust, Capital has the ability to tear down the housing and rebuild a community in its place. She said the dome could then be used as a community center.
Rates at the facilities vary. Target Logistics’ rates range from $100 to $150 per person per night, depending on the room and length of the contract. Capital Lodge charges $110 per bed for a double and $165 for a single.
Target Logistics is able to ensure a return on its investment by having oil companies sign contracts guaranteeing they will fill a certain number of beds.
“We know that lodge will be pretty full for five years,” Lash said. “Our facilities are full 365 days a year. We don’t have the seasonalities of other operators in other countries.”
Lash also said the quality of service his company provides keeps customers coming back.
“We have a proprietary economic model,” he said. “We have been very successful because we’re able to give value to our customers. Our customers are very happy with the way it works.”
Mason said Capital Lodge does have its high and low points, but remains mostly full.
“The only thing we can do is make every guest we have feel at home so they come back,” she said.
Target Logistics has more than $100 million invested in North Dakota. Its Tioga facility alone cost more than $35 million to build.
Although they’re meant to be temporary, Lash said he hopes the assets the company has put into North Dakota will be there for a long time.
For example, the power plants in the state will have to be shut down in the near future for updates. When that happens, workers will need a place to live. Lash and Mason both said their companies’ facilites also could help in that situation.
“Our mobile camps would be perfect because you can’t really build housing for three or four months,” Lash said.
Lash said Target Logistics already does work for one power company, providing mobile camps while transmission lines are installed. He said it’s the only company that can move with crews building pipelines and transmission lines.
The companies also try to have a permanent impact on the town they’re near. Target Logistics donated a police dog to one city, held a fundraiser for a girl trying to make the Olympic swim team, fed 5,000 people for the anniversary of the first oil well and does what it can to reduce waste and pollution produced at its facilities.
Capital Lodge provided food for a military event, bought bikes for a giveaway, holds blood drives and has generators to remain self-sustainable in the case of a power outage.
“We try to give back because the communities have been so supportive. We’re privileged to be able to operate in everybody’s back yard,” Lash said.
Williston City Auditor John Kautzman said it’s obvious that the camps are near town but they’re operated reasonably well and the larger companies, like Capital Lodge and Target Logistics, communicate often with the city. He said the city hopes the camps will limit or prevent overbuilding in the case of another bust.
“The future will tell if we made the right call,” he said.
Tioga City Auditor Jamie Eraas said there is a certain percentage of temporary housing needed near the cities, but it does put a strain on local services. She thinks the camps help mitigate some of Tioga’s housing challenges. However, fire and ambulance districts used to serving 1,000 people now have to cover a population of about 7,000.
Eraas also said the camps don’t fill the gap for workers coming to North Dakota with families.