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Why Oklahoma’s Oil Boom Has Forced Dairy Queen to Offer Sign-On Bonuses

Filed by KOSU News in State Impact.
August 20, 2012

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Rig crews hard at work on a Helmerich & Payne drilling operation in western Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas boom has been great for drillers, energy explorers and petroleum producers. It’s been a boon to local communities, where growth is outpacing housing.

So why are there so many “help wanted” signs in restaurant and shop windows in western Oklahoma?

The Associated Press reports on the “flip side” opportunity in Oklahoma’s oilfields, where people are getting lucrative new jobs — and leaving their old ones unfilled.

The result: Many businesses and government agencies now struggle to find enough workers. Most able-bodied people can double or triple their income in the oil patch.

Gas stations can’t find enough cashiers, and the local prison in Fort Supply — the William S. Key Correctional Center — is so short on guards that “inmates can sometimes just walk away,” the AP reports.

“I could hire 17 correctional officers today if I could get them to walk through the door,” said William Monday, the prison’s deputy warden.

The problem: Prison guards start off at about $11.82 per hour — entry-level oilfield jobs start at about $20 per hour.

It’s so bad that Dairy Queen gives employees an extra $200 after they’ve been on payroll for three months.

“I never dreamed we’d have to offer a sign-on bonus to work here,” store owner Kenny Vassar tells the AP.

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