STANLEY Watco Transload and Intermodal Services is looking for a few good men. Or women.
Watco, a large transportation-oriented company based in Pittsburg, Kan., is staffing its new transloading facility in Stanley in preparation of a large-scale crude oil shipping center involving rail cars. Watco is partnering with EOG Resources, a major player in recent years in the Bakken shale formation in northern North Dakota, in order to help EOG more effectively ship the crude it is pumping out en masse.
Kevin Goins, vice president and chief operating officer of Watco's Transload and Intermodal division, said Wednesday that he is excited to embark on a journey along with EOG that basically stacks up like a "dream team" of production and shipping.
Human Resource and Safety Director Debbie Ross of Watco was a friendly face greeting prospective employees at a job fair held at Job Service North Dakota in north Minot.
"They're very good at oil, and we're very good at logistics and transportation," said Goins. "That's kind of what we do."
Watco was in Minot holding a job fair at Job Service North Dakota in an effort to recruit quality personnel to staff the first-of-its-kind facility.
"This is something brand new," Goins said. "This has never been done in North America, to our knowledge."
Goins said he was pleased with the talent pool that came to the job fair, and that the company had "gotten some really good candidates."
Watco's transloading strategy is an attempt to break open a market dominated for years by one method of shipping, Goins said.
"From the Watco standpoint, and from a general crude oil standpoint, pipelines have really dominated (crude shipping)," he said. However, the pipelines coming out of North Dakota are full, Goins said, and with shipping contracts for many companies nearing time for renewal, Watco felt the time was right to move in and provide a more-than-viable alternative.
"We're calling this a 'crude by rail' program, where we essentially are the pipeline," Goins said. "We're a moving pipeline that's really what we are.
"We're going to be bringing in 100 cars at a time and loading 100 cars at a time. We'll be shipping those down to various locations in the U.S. to unload to go into markets."
Transloading will provide at least one large advantage over pipelines as well, Goins said.
"(The shippers) have more flexibility as to where they market it," he said. "A pipeline keeps you limited to just where the pipeline goes."
Goins said Watco has experience shipping other petroleum products such as ethanol and jet fuel, but that it had never tried crude before.
"Those are premixed products," Goins said, "but this is coming right out of the ground, into the tank and into the rail cars."
With many companies moving into the Minot area and a major transloading facility at the Port of North Dakota in northeast Minot, Goins was asked if Watco would be apt to entertain visions of moving to or branching out into the Minot area.
"No," he said matter-of-factly. "(Stanley is) where the wells are at, that's where the drilling rigs are at, and that's where we'll be at right there."
Goins said a sizeable investment has been made in the Stanley operation, including more than a mile of new rail and a pair of massive tanks.
"We're putting in two tanks that will hold 2.9 million gallons or basically 66,000 barrels of oil each," he said. "It's a pretty massive site once you see it."
Another job fair was held Thursday in Stanley, but Goins was fairly sure that the company would still have positions to fill afterwards.
He was asked what Watco is seeking in a prospective employee.
"Right now, we're looking for people who might have some kind of oil background or warehousing background," Goins said. "People who are used to the wear and tear. We'd like to hire local people, because local people know the area better than anybody.
"We're looking for somebody who wants to advance and are hard-working people. There are really no pre-qualifications, other than having a good job history and wanting to advance yourself.
"If you have those skills and those talents, then we'll take it from there."
Goins said that although experience is preferred, everyone will be starting from scratch once they're aboard.
"There's nobody else doing this," he said. "So no matter if I've got a guy who's been working on an oil rig for 20 years, I'm still going to have to train him on what to do. And if got a guy who had transloading experience on frac sand for 20 years, I'm still going to have to train him on the rail side or the oil side.
"So we're just looking for a combination of any of those things. Of course, no drugs and no alcohol and that whole bit."
Goins said he has been pleasantly surprised that prospective employees aren't solely salary-driven.
"The thing I'm finding the most is that what people want out of a job isn't so much the money," he said. "It's the stability, the benefits and the chance for advancement."
And while no business is completely immune to the financial pressures of the present day, Goins feels Watco is faring better than most.
"I think we're in 26 states right now," he said. "We have more than 2,000 employees and more than 3,000 miles of rail that we own and operate, and 15,000 rail cars that we own. We have the largest mechanical repair shop for rail cars in the U.S., and our growth has been over 20 percent from year to year over the past 10 years.
"Even in the economic downturn, I've got more opportunities right now than I've ever had. It's because we solve problems.
"People want to save money, we show them from a logistics standpoint and from a transportation standpoint how they can save money by utilizing all of our services.
"It's been a good ride for us."