WILLISTON, N.D. – Mike Ziegwied used to take naps in his van while waiting for clients he drove through his transportation business.
Now the Idaho man sleeps in that van every night after his business failed and he moved to North Dakota to pay off his debts.
Ziegwied, 47, moved to Williston about a year ago to look for work rather than go into bankruptcy.
The transportation business he owned for 10 years in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, primarily transported senior citizens and people with disabilities. But changes to how he was reimbursed for transporting Medicaid patients forced him to go out of business.
“When the Medicaid part dried up, I was running on fumes,” Ziegwied said. “The business model was destroyed and there was no way to pay it back.”
Idaho, where the unemployment rate was recently listed at 7.1 percent, is one of the most common out-of-state license plates that can be spotted in northwest North Dakota.
Ziegwied estimates that from his town of Bonners Ferry, which has a population of about 3,000, as many as 50 people came to North Dakota to look for work.
Ziegwied, who works as an attendant for a salt water disposal well, plans to work in North Dakota until he gets out of debt.
“I was hoping to get rid of it faster,” Ziegwied said.
He had the option to stay in what he called a “moldy basement apartment” for $500 a month, but Ziegwied chooses to sleep in his Toyota Sienna to save money. He tried to park overnight in the library parking lot and other areas in Williston, but police would come by and tell him to move along. Now he parks outside of his friends’ apartment.
“You’re pretty limited unless you know somebody and park in front of their house,” Ziegwied said.
Ziegwied, who has a master’s degree in educational psychology, is married with two daughters, ages 5 and 10. In about a year, he’s only been able to go home four times because he doesn’t get more than two days off at a time.
For the first year, Ziegwied said he could tolerate being away from home. But now he’s working hard to find a new job that will have a schedule such as working long hours for weeks and giving him one week off that will allow him to go home. He’s also trying to find a job that provides housing.
Companies that don’t offer housing or schedules that allow workers to go home will struggle to retain workers, Ziegwied said.
“Really, this is Alaska South,” he said. “You can’t look at it as business as usual.”