WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Jake Walters spent about half of 2012 commuting from southern California to Watford City, sleeping on the floor of an RV and video chatting with his young family back home.
Being separated from his family for weeks at a time was tough, so he jumped at the chance to move his family to North Dakota and work in Watford City full time.
His wife, Katie, visited Watford City in October and by Thanksgiving they were moving into a single-wide trailer with kids Julia, 7, and Drew, 4.
“This is such a great community and is really focused on families,” Katie said.
Jake and Katie, who work in residential construction, were laid off from their jobs in 2009.
They lived in La Quinta, Calif., in Riverside County, one of the hardest-hit foreclosure spots in the country.
They now work as independent contractors for Bakken Housing Partners to manage two major developments in Watford City – Fox Hills Village and Wolf Run Village.
The timing of the job opportunity worked out perfectly for the family. They were in over their heads with their mortgage in California and considering moving in with family in Florida.
The difference between their former home and the booming economy of Watford City is dramatic, Katie said.
“Visiting this place, it’s a completely different universe from the rest of the country,” Katie said.
But the housing shortage in North Dakota requires many families to be separated. While flying back and forth to California, Jake met a lot of other dads who were away from their families, including one who spent his first Christmas at home in five years.
That gives the couple personal motivation to work hard at getting the housing projects completed.
They’re particularly excited about the Wolf Run Village project, which will provide affordable housing for teachers, law enforcement, city employees and other public service employees. The project includes Wolf Pup Day Care, which will add an additional 150 child care spots for Watford City, addressing a day care shortage that the family knows about firsthand.
Drew is only able to attend preschool for a half day, twice a week, and has to be in a class with kids who are a year younger. The family is eager for him to get into child care and have more opportunities for socialization.
For daughter Julia, she has about 17 kids in her class in Watford City, compared to about 30 in California.
“She’s getting a much better education here,” Katie said.
The family lives in a trailer their employer provides, which is also their office. The kids now share a bedroom and once a month they have two colleagues who stay with them.
But they’re happy to make the best of it, and they’re enjoying experiencing a new climate.
“I like it because we get to go sledding and make snowmen,” Julia said.
In just a few months, the family knows more people in Watford City than they did in La Quinta after living there for eight years.
“Everybody in this town is super friendly, willing to help,” Katie said.