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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications, Published October 21 2012

ND company finds unique solution to housing crisis

GRAFTON, N.D. – A long-dormant neighborhood on the north end of this northeastern North Dakota city is coming back to life.

Diverse Energy Systems, the fast-growing producer of steel tanks and other products for western North Dakota’s burgeoning oil industry, is converting 10 duplex residential buildings that once served the region’s migrant farmworker community into temporary apartments for new employees.

Diverse calls the residential complex DiverCity, a project designed to answer one of the company’s most critical needs – providing housing for a rapidly expanding workforce.

“My recruiting program has been going on, but we didn’t know how to proceed,” said Scott Muster, market director for the Houston-based company. “Housing is a huge problem for everyone in North Dakota. We’re attracting people from Virginia, from Alaska, from all over the country. But there’s very few places to live.”

Diverse, which was founded as Lean Technologies but changed hands and names earlier this year, has doubled its workforce to about 60 since January. The company plans to hire another 20 this fall and then another two dozen, reaching 100 by February, and possibly expanding to 150 by the end of 2013 and 250 a year later, according to Muster.

Many of the recently hired employees have found housing in communities all around Grafton, some commuting from Grand Forks and beyond.

In August, Grafton had just two one-bedroom apartments available for rent, according to Muster. Company officials considered buying an apartment building, renting a block of rooms in a local motel, even buying a motel.

“I was struggling with a lot of different ideas, of what to do at the most reasonable cost,” Muster said.

Early this past summer, Craig Adamsen, Diverse’s paint shop manager in Grafton, suggested the company buy and refurbish the former migrant housing property, which has been vacant for about 10 years.

The complex has been on the market for several years.

The company began negotiating on the property in July, and the sale was completed in August.

At least two of the buildings in the 3.5-acre complex are expected to be completed in time for an Oct. 29 grand opening.

Kevin Bonham writes for the Grand Forks Herald