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With booming roughneck population, 'man-camp' owners strike it rich

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TWC News: With booming roughneck population, 'man-camp' owners strike it rich
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Once remote regions of Texas are now flooded with new neighbors, thanks to the ongoing boom in the state’s petroleum industry.

Since 2007, 78,000 people have gone to work in the petroleum industry. Those numbers create a housing crunch which is where entrepreneurs have been hammering away to strike it rich designing and building “man camps.”

The small town of Big Wells in Dimmit County sits southwest of San Antonio, just 60 miles west of the Mexican border. It’s not what any real estate agent would typically describe as prime property—unless you’re an oil field worker in need of bunk space, that is.

Some of the more 116,000 roughnecks working in the 20 county Eagle Ford region pay a premium for a place to stay.

Oil-patch entrepreneur Debra Broussard left her Houston RV dealership business to stake a claim on about an acre of land seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Her new company Big Wells Lodging offers housing to the roughnecks at what seem like high rents, but she says that’s the way it is along the shale.

"(The units rent are) $1,895 a month,” Broussard said. “And I'm cheap. I'm the cheapest, trust me!"

Broussard said each lodge on her 10-unit lodging camp cost around $25,000 to build and she has plans to build 10 more. Each houses four to six men.

Her property sits off of State Highway 85, in the western portion of the Eagle Ford Shale, an oil-rich region, where production is still ramping up.

Broussard’s story is not unique.

Drive about a few hours east to Kenedy County and you’ll find T.J. Vekaria working in his new 30-room motel, built just six months ago. He gave up comforts of Dallas to make a new living in a town in desperate need of lodging.

Vekaria’s Kenedy Country Inn is a home away from home for skilled oil-field workers.

“The Eagle Ford is opportunity,” Vekaria said. “It's a one-time opportunity."

Vakaria has about the future. He says, oil executives recently approached him to rent out his motel for the next six years. He now plans on building a high-end resort style hotel.

It’s the booming population which is allowing regular people like Vekaria and Broussard their chance at oil-field fortune, but without the dangers these guys encounter.

And with 2,000,000 Texans—13 percent of the state's labor force—employed in the current boom, business looks good.

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