- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 27, 2016

DAYTON, Wyo. (AP) - There’s no arguing the demanding nature of Dan Bockman’s job.

He often finds himself working long hours, both in freezing temperatures in the winter or under the scorching hot sun in the summer. When he’s not working with his hands, he spends his time buried in paperwork and trying to find his next client.

And yet, he counts his blessings every day.

Bockman is the owner of Bockman Group, LLC., a Dayton-based business focused primarily on fencing for local residents, and it’s a job he wouldn’t trade for anything. But in order to achieve the American dream of owning his own business, he had to endure the harsh realities of American capitalism.

Several years ago, he found himself on the wrong end of the boom and bust cycle of the energy industry. Out of a job, he took a leap of faith.

And it turned out to be the best decision of his life.

Life was good for Bockman.

He was a seven-year-veteran at Marathon Oil Company, working as a construction supervisor in the exploding methane fields. Natural gas was selling at record prices, the coal and oil markets were booming with it.

But in 2013, everything started to change.

Natural gas prices started to flatline. Methane prices dropped from their record-high $13 per MBTU, or million British Thermal Units, in 2008 to around $3 in the winter of 2013.

“We started to see everything collapse around us,” Bockman said.

He was called into several different meetings by his supervisors, most of which consisted of informing their employees that the outlook for their industry was starting to look dismal. Eventually, it was suggested Bockman and his co-workers look to be transferred, or start exploring other options for work.

He’s a Big Horn native; his wife grew up in Dayton. This was their home, he said, and there was no way they were going to pack their things and leave Sheridan County.

But with a wife and kids to provide for, he couldn’t afford to be out of work. So, Bockman filed for an LLC while still working at Marathon Oil, though he admits he didn’t know what that business would be.

“Instead of looking for a job, I wanted to create a job. I wanted to work for myself,” Bockman said.

The inevitable happened. He was called into his supervisor’s office and told he would only be given three more weeks of employment until he would be another casualty of the bust of the energy market.

Bockman was out of a job, so he got to work.

He and his family pushed their chips to the middle of the table and went all in. They cashed out their life’s savings, put it toward equipment and assets and hired several employees. By Jan. 1, 2014, he founded Bockman Group, LLC., a fencing and oil roustabout company.

He had put together a company in a little more than a month and a half.

“I was really trying to put together two businesses at once,” Bockman said. “I was actually using the oil roustabout of my company to fund the fencing start-up.”

While natural gas went belly-up, the fencing industry was wildly successful for Bockman that first year.

Working from sun up to sun down networking with local residents in and outside of Dayton, Bockman was able to find more than enough jobs to keep him and his crew busy throughout the summer.

“It was literally the honeymoon stage of our company. We were well-funded and there was plenty of work,” Bockman said.

Yet, it wasn’t all fun and profits. After starting his business in less than 90 days, the owner and manager roles were still very foreign to Bockman. He was balancing payroll, networking, marketing and even learning the business of fencing itself; he admits his prior knowledge on the industry was somewhat limited.

With the price of oil taking a dive, the oil side of his business began to slide as well.

“It was a little scary at first,” Bockman said. “Especially with everything coming right at us - we had to learn quick. I was really learning everything on the fly, constantly. It was intense there for a while.”

The honeymoon stage is over for his company, but three years later, business is still going smoothly for Bockman. The third year, he hopes, will be his best year yet. He employs 13 seasonal employees and has other projects in the works to diversify his business.

Oil prices have hit rock bottom. Natural gas is the lowest it’s been in decades. Local coal companies are filing for bankruptcy left and right. The crash in the regional energy sector has hurt thousands of Wyomingites claiming thousands of jobs.

Bockman’s business has taken off, but as a former energy employee himself, his heart goes out to all of those who are suffering from the bust.

But it shouldn’t deter anyone’s chance at success.

He says when terrible things happen, it allows another door to open up; and when that door opens, don’t hesitate - just go for it.

“You just have to keep your nose down and keep going,” Bockman said. “Don’t sit there and be depressed with what the economy is doing. You have to keep being resilient.”

___

Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press, https://www.thesheridanpress.com/

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