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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published March 17 2013

Two Alaska women launch booming taxi business in the heart of Oil Patch

WILLISTON, N.D. – Mr. Kab Taxi owner Sheila Taranto apologizes if she’s short on the phone with customers. But the calls for rides come in so fast that she has to get the address and get on her way.

“This load is the largest I’ve ever had to handle in my entire life,” she said.

Taranto, 69, drove taxis in Alaska for 27 years before she moved to Williston last fall to launch a new business. The demand for transportation in the Oil Patch is so strong that Taranto encouraged another female taxi driver from Alaska to follow her to North Dakota.

Megan Patrick, 31, took her advice and has been living in Dickinson since January to start a taxi business there. She already sees great potential.

“This is a very unique situation,” Patrick said. “You’ve got a lot of people that don’t have cars, and the transportation is extremely limited here.”

Taranto sold her taxi business in Alaska in 2010 but decided she wasn’t ready to quit working. She’d heard about North Dakota’s oil boom and decided to try starting a new business.

“I was still healthy and I needed to go out there and show myself that I could do it again,” Taranto said. “It’s like the last hurrah, I hope.”

She thought she would run a one-woman show, but found the demand to be so great that she added more drivers and is expanding to Watford City.

Taranto rents a room from a couple in Fairview, Mont., but she often sleeps in her 4x4 pickup nicknamed Miss Sheila that she uses as a taxi. She is buying a house near Williston along the Missouri River, where she will set up a dispatch center and manage the operation.

“I’ve turned into a Dakota lady, and I’m proud of it,” Taranto said.

Patrick, who operates E-Cab with a business partner who is in Alaska, said she’s glad Taranto persuaded her to come to North Dakota. She expects to spend a few months in Dickinson to set up the operation, analyze profit and loss margins, and determine whether the business plan will work.

She is also exploring the idea of putting cabs in Bismarck, Minot and Fargo.

“I’ve got quite a bit of work to do,” she said.

Patrick wasn’t sure how much she’d like Dickinson, but she said she’s really enjoying it and is grateful for how supportive the community is of her business. She said she has “undying respect” for the locals because she’s experienced oil booms in Alaska and she knows how stressful it can be.

“They still haven’t lost their ability to be polite to people that aren’t from here,” she said.

Patrick is not sure how long she’ll be in North Dakota. She has four kids between the ages of 6 and 11 back in Alaska, and she keeps in touch with them over video chat.

Both women love Alaska and had a difficult time moving away.

“It’s a hard place to leave,” Patrick said. “It’s a state that has nothing but beauty.”

But North Dakota, which passed Alaska last year to be the second-largest oil producing state, offers a lot of opportunities and will likely see more Alaskans, Patrick said.

“If you’ve got the patience and the tenacity to stick it out, then you’ll probably be successful,” Patrick said. “There’s nothing you can’t do, really. This is one of the places where people can say they’ve got a chance at the American dream.”

Amy Dalrymple is a Forum News Service reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.