Mike Gayda tried going to college.
After attending Dickinson State University for a short time he acknowledged, “College wasn’t for me.”
So, knowing he had a talent for welding, he took jobs with Steffes Corp. in Dickinson and at the Case IH Steiger plant in Fargo. It was at the latter that the Dickinson native had a chance conversation with a co-worker who tipped him off about welders running their own service trucks in the burgeoning western North Dakota oil fields.
So, in 2006, Gayda decided to move home and start his own business.
“It was perfect timing,” Gayda said.
When he was 20 years old, Gayda started Iron Works Welding with one service truck. He worked out of a heatless quonset on Dickinson’s south side by himself.
By 2008, before the true onset of the oil boom, he had found enough work to hire two employees and build a 6,800 square-foot building on a little less than an acre of land on a space just north of Dickinson in the industrial park off Highway 22.
Today, the 28-year-old has 14 employees — including his own mother — and is again looking to expand because of the growth created by the oil industry.
“Our goal is just to keep growing and keep servicing southwestern North Dakota, depending on how big the oilfield gets or how busy it gets,” Gayda said.
“You’ve got to keep growing with the oilfield.”
Gayda didn’t exactly strike when the iron was hot.
His business started about four years before the oil industry truly started gaining steam in western North Dakota.
“I struggled for, I’d say, probably three or four years — at least,” Gayda said.
For a while it was just him and one service truck.
“I was doing work for farmers, basically anything I could get my hands on,” Gayda said.
He soon began subcontracting for Bob’s Oilfield Service, a Belfield-based company established in the last oil boom. After about a year, he started generating business of his own.
“Then the oilfield finally hit and I started making more money,” Gayda said.
Now, Iron Works Welding serves just about every big-name oil company in the Bakken.
The company builds production lines — flow lines for tank batteries and pipeline — and performs rig maintenance. It also does stainless steel and aluminum custom fabrication in its shop and repairs tanks and skids.
“We wouldn’t have the opportunities that we do right now, especially for industry like we’re in,” Gayda said. “I probably wouldn’t be living in North Dakota, that’s for sure.”
Finding good help
Cody Gress, who like Gayda is a Dickinson High School graduate, said the company’s growth has been “pretty wild.
“It was a little bit after the boom started, but it wasn’t really like it is now,” said Gress, who at 25 years old is one of Gayda’s most experienced welders.
Finding good help, however, is difficult. Gayda said his employees are split between North Dakotans — some who moved to Dickinson — and those who came to the area from out of state. Ryan Bettin is one of Gayda’s recent hires. This is the Jackson, Minn., native’s first welding job. He came to Dickinson because of the opportunities.
“Back in Minnesota, it’s tough — no matter what kind of job you’re looking for,” Bettin said. “The openings aren’t there.”
Gayda said, like any other business, it’s difficult to find great help, but maintained he has to be choosy because of the type of work the company does.
“Obviously welding is a skilled job,” Gayda said. “You have to have a knack for it. You have to know what you’re doing. Not just anybody can go weld pipe and certified X-rays and stuff like that. We have to be choosy on who we get.”
Gayda anticipates expansion in the next few years with a bigger building and more employees.
Still, despite all the success his business has experienced in less than a decade, Gayda said he often misses being in the shop welding with the rest of the guys.
“I couldn’t be happier with how the business grew and what success it had,” Gayda said. “I never thought that within six, seven years I’d be sitting here in an office.