4OYS: Boom Towns and the troubles that come with it

Posted at: 05/12/2014 10:59 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Reporter’s Notebook: During this political season, you can’t get through any speech without hearing the word "jobs" over and over.  Ever the since the recession back in 2007/08, "jobs" has been a hot button issue, especially in New Mexico. 

The dichotomy of what’s going on in Southeastern New Mexico caught my attention.  Unlike other areas of the state, this area has jobs—and lots of them.  The gas and oil industry is booming---attracting thousands of high paying jobs that require little training, little education, and no experience.  The opportunity to provide a high wage is attracting people from all parts of the country to the Carlsbad, Jal, Artesia, and Hobbs areas. 

But with the jobs comes some unexpected problems.  By far the greatest challenge facing Southeastern New Mexico is affordable and workforce housing.  By saying there is no housing available for the oil workers is an understatement.  Ask any oil worker and they all share the story about the difficulty of finding a place to live. 

But workers need a place to sleep, right?  They’ve gotten creative.  There are RV campers everywhere.  We met Cody Northcutt in Carlsbad who told us how he cleared his alfalfa field and turned it into an RV park.  Cody says he can easily charge $3,000 per hookup each month.  He now plans on converting other lands he owns into RV parks.  He knows the gas and oil industry will pay that kind of money to help house their workforce. 

Squatters are becoming a problem.  Eddy County Sheriff Scott London told us his deputies run into people living off the land frequently.  Unlike squatters in other areas of the state, the ones in Eddy County have more than enough money to buy or rent a home; there are just none available for them.         

Sheriff London shared crime stats that show nearly every area of crime is on the rise.  The most dramatic rises are traffic related.  For the first time in history, Carlsbad has a traffic problem.

There are some other minor issues-- like when my crew and I tried to grab dinner at a chain restaurant in Carlsbad.  You would think Chile’s was giving away free food and beers based on the crowd.  Nope.  It was just a typical Wednesday. 

Also, try booking a hotel.  No really---test it out.  Hotel prices are high and that’s if you can even get a room.  Hotel rooms go quickly because companies frequently book rooms in bulk. 

We spoke to county leaders who are well aware of their challenges.  At least three hotels are in construction in Carlsbad, another in Artesia.  But it still won’t be enough. Southeastern New Mexico needs workforce housing.  If developers happen to stumble on this story, I hope they realize opportunity awaits them.  It boils down to basic supply and demand economics.  The demand is there.  The oil workers are now waiting for the supply.