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‘Tioga is in me’ Neset takes broad focus to service

Posted: Oct 19 2021
BY JILL SCHRAMM Senior Staff Writer at Minot Daily News

Business, family and community aren’t separate facets of life to Kathleen Neset. Rather, it’s her insight into their interconnections that have encouraged good things to happen in her industry and community.

Known for her leadership in the Bakken oil and gas industry as owner of Neset Consulting in Tioga, Neset also is acknowledged both inside and outside the industry for her pride in her community and desire to make Tioga and North Dakota even better places to live.
“She’s very loved in this area,” said Abby Salinas, Tioga’s city auditor. “She’s just one of those people that are constantly ensuring the well-being of the area.”

“I have observed Kathy for many years and she really takes community responsibility very seriously,” said Dennis Lindahl, Tioga’s economic developer. “She’s a tremendous asset to the community and to the state.”

As work, family and community blend together, Neset has prioritized support for child care, advancement of women in the oil and gas field and releasing employees into the community to give back.

As a result of Gov. Jack Dalrymple asking her to serve on the steering committee for the state’s 2020 & Beyond, initiated in 2012, Neset said, she learned the scope of the childcare crisis that was affecting every city in the state.

“We visited nine cities,” she said. “Every single community, the number one problem – the need for good, reliable daycare.”

Shortly after joining the steering committee, Neset Consulting broke ground on a new headquarters in Tioga.

“I have a young workforce here. They’re young families, and it was all about employee retention. That was what spurred the desire to get the daycare built into the design of this building,” she said. “We designed the daycare and it’s based on the need. If I had not realized, through 2020 & Beyond and the work with Governor Dalrymple, I would not have foreseen to put the daycare in here. And we love it,” she said.

Neset has become Grandma Kathy to the daycare children, who numbered 22 this past summer. Neset said the daycare fulfilled its purpose in retaining workers, but having the children on site has meant more than that.

“It is such a mood booster,” she said. “It’s wonderful. It’s a blessing. That’s the bonus part.”
During the height of the oil boom, the Neset daycare served its workers first but then prioritized the community’s essential workers, such as teachers and medical and emergency personnel.

Neset has given advice to other oil and gas companies that have considered on-site child care. One of the challenges is that childcare facilities aren’t cost effective, she said.
“But I really feel that it’s not just about the bottom line. It’s also about what works best for the company. I think there’s benefits by being able to retain this workforce that far outweigh the financial burden of a daycare. It’s good for the community,” she said.

Beyond ensuring her company’s workers have child care, Neset also has sought to create avenues for women to get into good-paying energy jobs. She recalled the oil boom when Neset Consulting was taking on a lot of new workers.

“So many of the women who came in, they would come in because they knew I was a woman and in the oil field, and their question – or their mom and dad’s question – was ‘Will I be safe out there?’ I said absolutely, it’ll be safe. I am doing it. I have done it,” she said. “I spent 27 years living out on the drilling rigs. I’m 41 years into the job and into the work. I can tell you firsthand – you set the tone for your work out on a site. You set the tone for your work in an office or anywhere else you are. Are you going to be professional? You are there to do a job.”
Neset considers guiding the next generation to be an important aspect of her job.

Neset Consulting actively sought out and trained interns until COVID-19 restrictions put a damper on the program in 2020.

“Every single year I would have college interns come and work. I had high school interns here in the office as well, but we would have college interns go out onto the site and spend their summer and make some good money, learning the skills of the wellsite, whether they were engineers or geologists,” she said. “We would have anywhere from six to 12 interns out in the field in the summertime. Some came back in the wintertime, spent their winter break doing it, too.”

In a sense, helping young people get into the oil and gas industry is payback for her.
“There have been industry people who have truly assisted me. It’s time for me to turn around and help that next young scientist in line. I’ve been very fortunate. I also think that I could never have come up with this path through life myself. This is truly a God-driven path because I never would have seen myself in the oilfield of North Dakota when I was growing up in New Jersey,” she said.

Neset arrived in North Dakota in 1979, married her husband, Roy, in 1980 and made a life on the farm, raising a family and working as a geologist while building Neset Consulting with her husband, who died in 2005. Neset continues to run the company, with her two sons on board in engineering and technical positions.

Neset Consulting is a certified woman-owned business through the Women Business Enterprise National Council and Woman-Owned Small Business.

Looking back, Neset considers her greatest achievement to be the recruitment of young college graduates into the oil and gas industry, especially the young women.
“We’ve typically run about 20% women in the field operations,” she said. “That is an incredibly high number compared to other companies.”

Additionally, a large share of Neset Consulting’s administrative positions are held by women.
As a businesswoman, Neset has had opportunities over the years to serve on statewide, regional and local boards. She currently serves on the Tioga golf course board, her church council, Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation board and has been active with the North Dakota Petroleum Council, currently serving as chairwoman.

Neset also has an informal role in her community as a liaison in economic development efforts to help foster relationships with oil and gas companies.

Lindahl said Neset has been generous with Neset Consulting’s headquarters in Tioga, allowing the use of a training/conference room for outside functions.

He called the Neset building “a point of pride and prominence in Tioga.” When the economic development corporation needed a place to hold workforce development classes, Neset provided the space in the building at no charge. She even has some of her employees attending to broaden their skills in new areas, Lindahl said.

Neset worked closely with the economic development group when she served on the regional Federal Reserve Board in Minneapolis. Neset also recently completed service on the State Board Higher Education, which she began when appointed by Gov. Dalrymple in 2012.
Neset has had a lifelong interest in education. After high school, she had enrolled at Brown University with the intention of becoming a teacher. An elective geology course changed her direction, but education never has been far from her heart.

She worked as a substitute teacher for a time early in her career, and filled in as science teacher at Tioga High School in 1985-86. She also had filled in temporarily as the school’s business manager and served 10 years on the Tioga School Board.

Additionally, Neset co-chairs, with Mikey Hoeven, the Gateway to Science capital campaign for a hands-on science center, primarily for children, in Bismarck.

Educating people about the oil and gas industry has been another focus for her. That education might happen at landowner meetings or one-on-one at the kitchen table or at a T-ball game.

“I love sharing the information,” Neset said. “I have taught throughout my life and I enjoy it.”
Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said Neset has demonstrated her teaching skills in talking about energy to future military leaders at a Virginia college and presenting at the council’s outreach efforts into communities. She has spoken with teachers to give them a better understanding of the oil and gas industry to take into their classrooms, he said.

“Kathy has a unique way of engaging with the audience – whether it be oil and gas or geology or Bakken well completions or the opportunities for young people – in a way that people just really grasp it and connect with her,” Ness said. “Her enthusiasm, her style of presentation, it’s just truly remarkable.”

Her presentations on the drilling process are often illustrated using a straw.

“Kathy and that straw are certainly an integral part of North Dakota and what we’ve done in the last decade and a half with the Bakken. But she’s just a remarkable person and she’s energetic. People migrate to her,” Ness said. “She does a great job of providing internships and opportunities to young people, and she’s just a tremendous ambassador for our state, not only across North Dakota but across the country.”

Neset’s desire to educate goes beyond informing people about the oil and gas industry.
“I hope I’m teaching these young workers here at Neset about hard work, stay involved, give back,” she said.

Neset Consulting encourages employees to volunteer in the community, releasing them to do so during their work hours.

A regular supporter of the charitable projects of the local American Legion, Neset Consulting has had staff working with the Legion to design and build a new baseball field in Tioga. Neset has been working with Tioga’s Norseman Museum to help install a new oil and gas display.
The company has been involved with the Tioga airport because of the importance of air service to the energy and agriculture industries.

Neset said her sense of duty to her community was instilled by her parents, both of whom were active in their small town.

“It’s just ingrained in me. This is who I am, and I think it all comes down to your priorities,” she said. “Family has to be right up there, whether your family is your immediate family, or your extended family, or your work family or your Tioga family.”

In the future when people look back at her life, she wants to be remembered as a good geologist who had a role in the science of oil and gas development and also in the transition to fueling a cleaner environment. More importantly, she said, she wants to be remembered as a good mother and a business owner who cared about her team and her community.
“Tioga is in me,” she said, “and I think that is what we have amongst this entire community. When I look at the community of Tioga, they work very well together. We work very well together.”