CROSBY, N.D. — Anyone who remembers Bushel 42 in Crosby remembers the heartbreak of money lost trying to stem the flow of people leaving North Dakota.
A multimillion-dollar pasta plant enterprise, Bushel 42 was to be a checkpoint at the border. It would keep people home working good jobs and revitalize a region lush in resources and increasingly poor in people in the twilight years of the ’90s.
The plant failed, hopes dimmed, money was lost and the lights went out. Two years ago, the empty facility was purchased in a merged venture of two regional elevators, and today it’s one of the region’s largest employers.
In a twist of Bakken-inspired fate, New Century Ag is a bustling business, in large part because the outmigration of two decades ago has been transformed into an in-migration of thousands of oil field workers who stop for fuel, food and showers at this mixed truck stop and farm store.
“It’s definitely both,” said assistant manager Jake Dhuyvetter, whose Dutch name is associated with a large many-branched family in the region.
“This would never be what it is without the oil patch,” he said.
New Century drivers run fuel out to nearby oil rigs and storage racks, handling up to 30,000 gallons a day, said station manager Barry Haggin. The mechanic repair shop is cavernous, plenty big for the state-of-the-art equipment and two hoists that can easily lift oil tanker semis right off the floor.
The business occupies a visible location on North Dakota Highway 5 at Crosby, but unfortunately, the adaption from a pasta plant to a truck stop-slash-farm store left little choice but to install the gigantic fuel islands behind it, where they’re not visible from the highway.
“When you drive by, it looks like a penitentiary. It’s a good location, if we could have turned it around with the pumps in front,” Dhuyvetter said.
Gigantic signs are helping solve that problem, but Dhuyvetter said he’s not having much luck solving the worst one: Finding and keeping employees in fierce competition with the oil patch.
And that’s another twist of fate — more people in the Crosby area than ever and yet few to fill the newly created jobs.
“It’s a revolving door. We can’t keep ’em; they’re either going back home, or they’re going to the oil patch. Just when you think you’ve got a good one, off they go,” he said. “If variety is the spice of life, we’ve got variety — they come from all over, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa ...”
He’s got variety and company, too.
A new motel recently opened, just across the highway from the old Bushel 42, now New Century Ag.
The young manager, Becki Schumacher, said the Guardian Inn started with 43 rooms and added another 26 earlier this year. The inn will soon expand again with a restaurant and lounge so guests can have a nice meal and a drink without having to drive somewhere in a company pickup.
Schumacher and her young family — husband, two young children and a third on the way — moved from Minnesota to take the job and live
in a house attached to the motel. Her parents had moved to the area earlier and her mother was able to help with the children, an important support in town where day care is in crisis mode and getting worse.
“It’s hard. The biggest challenge for me is day care and finding people to work the night shift,” she said. Wages aren’t bad at $12.50 an hour to start, but not compared to oil field wages and not compared to booming rent prices.
To fill the staff, she depends a great deal on people like herself, who have come to Crosby from someplace else.
One is Linda Salem, who works the front reception desk. She was born in Crosby, but lived in Nevada for the past 23 years.
“The economics there got the worst of us, so we packed up our bags and went by the seat of our pants,” she said of her and her husband’s decision to head back home again.
They’re both working, living in low-income housing in nearby Columbus and most of their combined paycheck goes toward paying their mortgage back in Nevada.
“Our home has been empty for almost a year. It’s depressing, but we know people who’ve lost everything,” she said. “We want to keep our good credit.”
Salem said she likes her job at the Guardian Inn, meeting people and the new experiences that go with catering to a clientele that comes from every state in the country, most of them good guys just working for the man.
“North Dakota should welcome it. You do not want to be a state like Nevada with all the foreclosures. The economy is wonderful and the job opportunities are wonderful,” Salem said.
Schumacher said she’s optimistic she’ll find enough employees when the lounge and restaurant open, possibly with people like Salem who’ve moved in from Florida and Idaho and every place in between.
“We may have to build housing,” she said. “The housing with the hotel worked for my family. Without it, I don’t know what we would have done.”
Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.