Mercer, McLean and Oliver Counties – known collectively as Coal Country – were among the top 10 counties in North Dakota last year for highest average wages. Oliver Country, home of BNI Coal’s Center Mine and the Young Station, was number three. Mercer County was fifth and McLean County was ninth.
In Mercer County, home of Beulah and Hazen along with three coal mines, three power plants and the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, average annual wages at both the mines and coal conversion facilities are more than $100,000. The wages aren’t released for the mines and plants in the other two counties because of size and to avoid disclosing proprietary data.
Statistics released by the North Dakota Job Service showed that average wages in North Dakota grew from $53,356 statewide in 2018 to $54,103 in 2019. That’s the third straight year that average wages have increased across the state.
Besides Oliver County, two other coal counties were also in the top 10 for highest average wages. Mercer County, home to Beulah, three power plants, the synfuels plant and two mines, came in fourth place.
The top 10 counties for highest average wages all came from areas known for energy development. In first and second place were McKenzie and Williams Counties. Other top 10 counties based on wages include Dunn, Mountrail, Slope, Stark and Burke. Job Service North Dakota compiles the list of average wages by counties annually.
“The 2019 data from Job Service shows the strong influence energy production continues to have on North Dakota’s economy,” said Steve Van Dyke, vice president of communications for the Lignite Energy Council. “Between the oil and coal industry’s impact on wages, the state of North Dakota benefits from thousands of high paying jobs.”
Van Dyke also noted that the lignite industry produced more than 27 million tons of coal last year with about 80 percent turned into clean, affordable and reliable electricity. The other 20 percent was sold to the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, which makes fertilizers, synthetic natural gas and other marketable products including carbon dioxide. North Dakota is one of only 14 clean air states and the five coal mines are known for their excellence in land reclamation.
The Lignite Energy Council is a regional trade association representing North Dakota lignite producers, electric utilities and more than 300 businesses providing goods and services to the mines and plants. The lignite industry generates approximately $5.7 billion in gross business volume within the state.