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Oil workers who stayed help Midland bounce back after the bust

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MIDLAND – Lyn Sockwell, a 61-year-old oil field worker, spent 2016 peddling mac and cheese out of a shiny blue trailer on the street corners of this West Texas city.

Sockwell was laid off from an oil services company here two years ago, his third layoff over three decades in the industry. But with children and grandchildren in town, he had no intention of leaving Midland to chase another oil job.

“So we bought us a food trailer,” he said.

Midland food truck registrations are surging, up from 40 to 60 last year, and it’s one of the reasons why this city of 125,000, after a brutal oil bust, is quickly capitalizing on the new drilling boom in the nearby Permian Basin, the heart of Texas oil country. In the past, when oil prices crashed, the city emptied out, houses got boarded up and workers sought jobs elsewhere.

This time, people stayed, found other ways to earn a living and now provide the skilled labor force that has allowed oil companies to ramp up quickly after spending billions to acquire land in the prolific and lucrative Permian.

“In spite of what everybody tells you, we’re not dying out here,” said city development director Chuck Harrington.

Today, Midland’s neighborhoods are full, traffic thick and shops open. School enrollment is up more than 1,000 students since the bottom fell out two years ago, and business and household connections to municipal water have risen by several hundred.

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Written by David Hunn

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