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Published May 22, 2012, 11:08 AM

ND oil expo bringing 4,000 people to Bismarck

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Tom Metcalfe left Mississippi with his pickup truck, his tiny Chihuahua named Peanut and a trailer full of power washing equipment, with hopes of saving his cleaning company by moving it to North Dakota's prolific oil patch.

By: JAMES MacPHERSON, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Tom Metcalfe left Mississippi with his pickup truck, his tiny Chihuahua named Peanut and a trailer full of power washing equipment, with hopes of saving his cleaning company by moving it to North Dakota's prolific oil patch.

"It's hard to find work in Mississippi, but this is exciting. This is the biggest boom in the nation," said Metcalfe, who is among about 4,000 people attending a three-day event in Bismarck highlighting the state's oil patch.

His son, James, who graduated from high school Monday in Gluckstadt, Miss., is slated to join him this week in western North Dakota, where they plan to clean drill rigs, trucks and other oil field equipment with high-pressure blasts of steamy water.

Historically among the least visited states in the nation, North Dakota and its oil patch have lured people such as Metcalfe struggling to find work elsewhere. The Williston Basin Petroleum Conference and Expo, which started Tuesday, brings together engineers, geologists, investors, CEOs and government officials for seminars and networking.

"I never thought I'd ever come to North Dakota for anything, but here I am," said Jay Mikolinski, who moved from Las Vegas to Williston to expand his residential and commercial contracting business. "If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere."

The state, which has gone from the nation's ninth-biggest oil producer in 2006 to the second this year, behind only Texas, has some 17,000 more jobs than takers.

The expo at the Bismarck Civic Center is expected to inject about $1.7 million into the local economy. City officials said it's the biggest event to come to the state's capital city since a women's professional bowling tournament more than 30 years ago.

Mikolinski's partner, Kelly Murphy, said their company, River Basin Contracting, was among the largest in Nevada. But Murphy said the number of employees at the company has dropped from 1,500 to 500 in the past two years due to lack of work in Las Vegas.

"It's been dying for some time," Murphy said.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said people from nearly every state in the U.S. and from several other countries are expected at the expo, now in its 20th year.

"This has turned out be to quite the event," said Ness, who organization is one of the expo's sponsors. "People want to be here and they are moving to opportunity."

Travis Jordan, Dalyn Unruh and Avery Peters brought stacks of brochures about their Ronan, Mont.-based company, MT Rigmat LLC, which builds portable platforms used to support oil field equipment. Though their home state borders North Dakota, none of them had ever been to North Dakota until the expo.

"We want to network and learn about the industry," Jordan said.

The men, who schlepped tote bags of schwag around the convention hall, could not find a hotel in the area. Organizers said hotels were booked in cities as far away as 100 miles for the event.

Jordan said he and his business partners ended up staying at a campground outside of town.

"We don't mind. We're from Montana," Jordan said. "We know how to stay in a tent."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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