WILLISTON, N.D. – Before coming to North Dakota, Eric Bozeman lost his car, was about to be evicted from his apartment and had to search for pocket change to buy food.
The former North Carolina journalist struggled to find even part-time work after media cutbacks left him unemployed after 19 years working as a writer.
When his job selling men’s suits in Charlotte, N.C., for $10 an hour was about to be cut to less than 12 hours a week, Bozeman started researching opportunities in other states.
Everything pointed the 47-year-old to Williston, even though he knew it was risky to arrive in a new state by bus with less than $100, no job lined up and no plan for housing.
“When you have no other choice, that’s what you do,” Bozeman said.
After about a year in Williston, Bozeman is on his way to a new career in energy with a job at an electric cooperative that’s also allowing him to go back to school.
“This has been an oasis for me,” Bozeman said. “This is a breath of fresh air.”
His first weeks in Williston weren’t easy, however. Bozeman’s first stop was the Williston Walmart parking lot on the advice of a bus driver to meet a man who needed workers. The man, who had no license plates on his vehicle, recruited Bozeman to help dig a ditch and provided him housing at a camp.
Bozeman gave that a try, but decided he didn’t feel comfortable with the arrangement.
“I really put myself in a dangerous situation,” Bozeman said.
He then got some housing assistance from the Salvation Army and later spent about six weeks sleeping at Williston’s Concordia Lutheran Church while he searched for work.
Bozeman said he feels like God was watching out for him because he never had to spend a night outside, he never went hungry and he always had someone willing to give him a ride.
“I couldn’t have done this all by myself,” Bozeman said.
Last February, Bozeman got a job with Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative, which is rapidly expanding to meet the growing energy needs of the Oil Patch.
He works as a systems operator in the dispatch center of the cooperative, monitoring electrical loads and dispatching linemen to address outages. Bozeman didn’t have any technical experience, but he received on-the-job training and is taking online classes through Bismarck State College.
Bozeman said he would like to continue his education to earn a four-year energy management degree.
“I have a job that has what I call long legs,” Bozeman said.
While many who come to North Dakota for work expect to return to their home states, Bozeman said he plans to settle in Williston.
“It made more sense to me to look at this as home because this is where the work is,” Bozeman said. “It’s just a soft place to land and start over.”