Coal country tops wages

Three North Dakota coal counties ranked among the state’s top six for highest average annual wages for 2009.

Oliver County, the first for many years and second in 2008, regained its top ranking with average wages of $60,202, according to a news release from the Lignite Energy Council.

Mercer ranked second with $52,384, and McLean came in sixth with $42,027. All are above the statewide average of $35,970, the release said.

Oliver County is home to BNI Coal’s Center Mine and Minnkota Power Cooperative’s Milton R. Young Station. It fell to second place in 2008 behind oil rich Slope County. In the 2009 survey, Slope County was ranked third with an annual average wage of $48,180.

“The 2009 data from Job Service shows the influence energy continues to have on North Dakota’s economy,” Steve Van Dyke, a Lignite Energy Council spokesman, said in a statement.

Joining the three coal counties in the top six were Slope, Williams and McKenzie, all with strong oil exploration and production industries.