Tight labor market in the Permian Basin not restricted to oil field workers

MSN:
One of America’s hottest labor markets is in West Texas, where the brisket is scarce, the ‘man-camps’ are full, and oil workers with no time to spare pay $75 to skip the line at the barber shop.

West Texas has seen its share of oil booms, but the people there say this one is unlike any they’ve seen.

Driven by shale drilling, a gusher of crude production has transformed the Permian Basin into America’s hottest oilfield, turning what was a remote stretch of towns spread among mesquite trees and scrubland into an industrial zone, seemingly overnight.

Fortunes are being made in this fracking-related gold rush, and money and workers are flooding in. But many necessities in the area now cost a small fortune, creating opportunities for businesses selling everything from dipping tobacco to sand for fracking. It can be hard to get a haircut, grab a plate of good Texas barbecue, or find a table at a popular bar, because demand outstrips supply. Housing is scarce and hotel room prices sometimes rival those of New York City at more than $500 a night.

There are more than 300 metropolitan areas across the U.S. with fewer than 1 million people. The Midland-Odessa job market, in the heart of the fracking boom, was the hottest of all of them last year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Among those metro areas, Midland had the fastest job and labor-force growth, and one of the lowest unemployment rates, a monthly average of 2.3% in 2018.
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Pete McGarity opened Headlines Barber Shop in Odessa in 1998 and has ridden the boom-bust cycle before. This time around he decided to capitalize on it.

In 2017, Mr. McGarity spent about $25,000 to retrofit a trailer into a custom, mobile barber shop. That October, he drove it about an hour west to Pecos, Texas, and parked in front of the town’s only grocery store, hoping to catch oil field workers between shifts. It was an instant success.

“It was crazy, it went berserk,” says Mr. McGarity, 48. “I’d show up around one o’clock and we’d cut until after midnight.”

These days Mr. McGarity sends the trailer to Pecos, which is closer to the oilfields, six days a week with five barbers, who cut hair all day long. A cut costs as much as $40, more than the $25 he charged before the boom. There is usually a long waiting list, but patrons can cut the line if they pay $60, or $75 with a shave, a popular option with oil workers.

“It is flooded with oilfield workers galore, and these guys tip well,” he says.

Mr. McGarity’s barbers are raking it in. Those who venture to Pecos can make anywhere from $130,000 to $180,000 per year, he said. He is considering investing in additional trailers to send to farther-flung towns in the oil patch and says the additional revenue may allow him to retire soon. If there’s a bust, he’ll just store the mobile shops until things come back, he adds.

If you’re hoping to get some brisket at Pody’s BBQ in Pecos, you’d better show up early. During the week, there are usually 30 or more oil field workers lined up outside the restaurant before it opens at 11 a.m., an unusual sight for the small town before the boom.

Israel Campos says he has doubled his sales since starting the restaurant in 2012. Mr. Campos, 44 years old, says he is lucky his staff is family members, because many restaurants in the area struggle to keep workers, who are lured away by higher paying oil industry jobs.

The oil hands waiting in line will often order for their co-workers, sometimes 10 plates at a time, according to Mr. Campos. Company men frequently call ahead with larger orders they bring to drilling rigs or even fly out on private planes, he says.

“We sell out daily and we hardly see any locals because the oil field comes and buys us out,” Mr. Campos says. “Locals tell me ‘I won’t even attempt to come to your place,’ and I’m like, ‘sorry dude.’”
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There is more.

Before the shale boom, the area was losing population and houses were tough to sell.  Not anymore. 

I have always found the West Texas desert rather attractive.  This year with plenty of rainfall the desert of blooming and I have seen reports of bluebonnets three feet tall.  People are finding ways to make fortunes selling things to support the shale boom from sand to water.  It looks like the barbers and the brisket smokers are doing pretty good too.

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