LINTON, N.D. — Sharon and Larry Jangula feared that this year's drought would force them off their farm, until one of the nation's largest travel agencies moved 20 computer terminals into a vacant local storefront.
Her part-time bookkeeping jobs did not earn enough, and the alternative was driving 60 miles to Bismarck each day for a full-time job.
"It was becoming reality that we had to do something," before the Philadelphia-based Rosenbluth Travel Agency opened an office in Linton and hired 40 local farmers and farm wives as data processors, Sharon Jangula said.
The $5-an-hour, part-time jobs have helped many families hurt by the drought put food on their tables this fall.
"It really helps out," said Sharon Jangula, who was hired as coordinator of the office, the only full-time job.
The agency, for its part, discovered that being a good Samaritan can sometimes be good business.
By employing farm families to punch customer profile data into computers, the agency thought it could help the farmers survive their misfortune while saving the company money on overtime it was paying elsewhere, said Diane Peters, the agency's marketing manager.
Hal Rosenbluth, the travel agency's president, "just decided it was our social responsibility to help," she said.
The only requirement for employment was that workers be from farm families. "Because that was where the greatest effect of the drought was going to be felt instantaneously," Rosenbluth said in a telephone interview.
Without any prompting from government, Rosenbluth took it upon himself to find out what his successful travel business could do to improve the lot of the drought-stricken farmers.
"He saw the plight of the people in that area. He realized they were good business people, but that nature had just dealt them a bad hand," Peters said.
"He looked at work that needed to be done and said why can't those people do it."
The Rosenbluth agency is one of the nation's top three corporate and vacation travel agencies and expects more than $700 million in sales in 1988, Peters said.
It is the official travel agency of about 1,300 major U.S. corporations, including the Eastman Kodak Co., E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., General Electric Co. and the NBC television network, and employs 2,000 people at 160 offices in 33 states and abroad, she said.
To find out where his company's assistance might be most needed, Rosenbluth contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After being directed to North Dakota, the travel agency hooked up with state and local officials who led Rosenbluth to Linton, population 1,450, and Ashley and Napoleon, each with about 1,000 residents.
The drought dealt an estimated $2.1-billion blow to North Dakota's economy, or 10% of the state's gross business volume, according to economists at North Dakota State University. The state's agricultural sector lost $700 million.
"They decided on Linton because they had the type of building best suited for what they wanted to do," said Ron LeClerc, rural development coordinator for the North Dakota Economic Development Commission.
The 40 workers in Linton come from seven towns in a 30-mile area, Sharon Jangula said.
The travel agency originally intended to hire 20 full-time workers, but when 90 people applied for the jobs, it decided to hire 40 part-time employees instead, Peters said.
"We decided it would be better to impact 40 families," she said.
Jim Weisser, president of the Linton Industrial Development Corp., said the extra income is helping many of those families survive.
"It's just in some cases the difference of buying groceries or not," he said. "This has really given us a boost in attitude more than anything."
The agency flew computers and trainers to Linton to open a temporary office Aug. 8 for a 3-month trial, Weisser said. The development corporation chipped in $1,000 for two months' rent and coaxed local residents into waging a letter-writing campaign to show their interest in keeping the office open, he said.
The office did such a good job during the trial period that Rosenbluth quickly decided to make it a permanent addition to the company fold.
The travel agency is now the town's fourth-biggest employer, surpassed only by the county, school and hospital, Weisser said.
Although the Linton office was the first one his agency has opened that was not requested by a client, it may not be the last, Rosenbluth said.
"What we do is very electronic," he said. "It could be in Linton; it could be in Maine. . . . The key is to be where we have some very fine associates."