Nevada's gold boom is helping a troubled state

A conveyer belt in a Nevada gold mine
CBS News

(CBS News) These have been very difficult times in Nevada. They have the highest unemployment rate in the country and one of the highest foreclosure rates.

CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor reports that not all the news in The Battle Born State is bad. Almost 500 miles from Las Vegas, one town is booming.

The secret? Gold, lots of it.

When the bottom fell out of the Las Vegas housing market, civil engineer Joshua Owen struggled to make ends meet.

"We went from a two income household to a one income, to a three-quarters of an income," Owen said.

So he moved his family to Elko, population 18,000, and got a job at a gold mine.

"Now, instead of residential streets I'm designing haul roads for 400 ton trucks. I'm actually doing better than I ever did in Las Vegas," Owen said.

Nevada has the highest unemployment in the country: 12 percent.

But in the northeast corner of the state, the gold mines are booming, and prospectors are pouring in from places like Montana, California and Tennessee.

After China, Australia and South Africa, Nevada is the fourth-largest gold producer in the world.

State-wide, the mining industry employs more than 12 thousand, with an average individual salary of about $80,000.

Rick Franco works at Barrick Gold's Cortez mine, the most productive facility in North America.

"It's awesome. I love my job," Franco said.

Doug Wiest came to Cortez after his Montana mine shut down.

"There's a lot of jobs here. There's a lot of money to be made here," Wiest said.

The work isn't easy. Most of these miners pull 12-hour days and have a two-hour commute.

"A welcome sight at the end of our day, daylight," said Tammy Adams, who works at one of the mines.

But so long as there's gold in the ground and a paycheck to earn, Tammy Adams says people like her will keep showing up.

"I don't think you're gonna find a job any better," Adams said.

The Nevada Mining association estimates the industry will add an additional 1,200 jobs in Nevada this year.