Williams County’s Complete Count co-chair Lindsey Harriman fired the first shot of what will be many in the fight to count all of the oilfield’s transient workers in the U.S. Census. It was a short presentation at the Williston Basin Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute’s January meeting.
While short, it’s just the first of many Harriman hopes to make to oilfield workers.
“In marketing they say you have to hear something eight times before it sticks,” she told the Williston Herald. “So this is an iterative process, and collaborative. It’s repeatedly telling the same thing to the same people, so that it sticks by mid-March.”
There has been a big concern statewide as far as how to reach so many transient workers with the message that they should be counted in North Dakota for the census.
Many of these workers own homes elsewhere. They may think of some place else as home, despite laying their head on a pillow in the Oil Patch most of the time. Some are mistakenly concerned they will lose their home state’s driving license or hunting and fishing licenses.
But, as Harriman pointed out during the API meeting, that’s not actually how it works. The Census doesn’t care what a person’s driving or hunting license says. The Census, for its purposes, is only concerned about where a person sleeps the most.
“If it’s six months and one day here — even if it’s in a hotel or an illegal apartment in your warehouse — the Census doesn’t care,” Harriman said during the API meeting.”Planning and Zoning cares, but the Census doesn’t, and they don’t tell anyone else. It’s confidential.”
One of the big drivers behind efforts to get a complete count is the fact that Census numbers have so many uses. The federal government, for one, generally divvies up federal dollars using Census stats.
“For every single person we miss, the state loses $1,900 in federal funding per year for 10 years,” Harriman said. “This is your tax dollars being returned to you. The numbers are used for social programs like SNAP, heating assistance, school lunches, highways and roads.”
While the Census is estimating a population of 35,000, Williams County has its own estimate, and it’s considerably higher.
“If we take our addresses, assume full occupancy, and multiply that by 2.3 people, that puts us around 47,000,” Harriman said. “Williams County has essentially doubled. If we get a complete count, we will get the right funding.”
Businesses also use Census numbers when they are evaluating where to locate, Harriman pointed out. Better Census numbers could help position the county for more retail options.
“Places like Target, whether small or large, have a number they want to hit with the population threshold,” Harriman said. “We’d have the ability to document soundly that we have that population.”
Harriman is asking oilfield companies to consider letting employees fill out the census online during staff or safety meetings. She’s also available to present at staff and safety meetings, to help workers understand where they should actually be counted.
But the Complete Count committee is not just relying on these presentations. They are working out a complete arsenal for March, when the census opens. Among the initiatives, they are arranging to place information directly in hotel rooms about the Census and ensuring that transient workers may use computers at a variety of public places such as libraries, city halls, hotels, and the like.
There’s even going to be a Census Day picnic April 1, provided by Halliburton, to emphasize the fact that is the official Census Day. Workers can use that date to determine where in the Oil Patch they should be counted.
Some of the transient workforce who live here for six months and one day follow a circuit. They might be in Watford City a few days, Williston a few days, Fort Berthold a few days, and then back again.
In that case, wherever they were on April 1 can be used for their their Census address.
Harriman is also planning to do Business After Hours Feb. 13 and Eggs and Issues March 24, to reach new businesses.
“The chamber has 80 new members, so we’re trying to connect with those companies at these chamber events,” Harriman said. “Everyone is working all the time, too, so you have to continue to repeat the message and get out there to engage with special interest groups and the companies directly, to say it’s coming. Please fill out the form. It will make everyone happy.”