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Builder: Oil boom best opportunity in decades

WILLISTON -- During the Bakken Housing Summit, Salt Lake City real estate developer Michael Milner sent this text to his colleague: "Think big! Think real! Think fun!"

Milner, managing member of American Landmark Group with 40 years of experience in the building industry, said the long-term development opportunities provided by the oil boom in western North Dakota are exciting.

"Without federal interference, this will be one of the most significant economic opportunities this country has had in the last 50 to 100 years," Milner said.

Milner and representatives from his firm are among the more than 350 people from 33 states who attended the Bakken Housing Summit in Williston this week.

American Landmark Group, which has done major developments in Utah and Nevada, began working in North Dakota and Montana about a year ago.

The group has properties in Glendive and Sidney, Mont., and is tying up some properties this week in Watford City and Dickinson, Milner said. The firm also has joint ventures with property owners in Williston.

Milner's firm does residential, commercial and industrial development, but one of the group's major goals is developing family housing in the Bakken oil producing region. The projects are financed with private equity because it's difficult to get bank loans, Milner said.

Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, told conference participants that one challenge to financing projects is that many lenders aren't convinced that the oil boom is not a temporary phenomenon.

Rutenberg said he thinks it's going to take a collaborative effort to meet the housing needs in western North Dakota. Organizers of the summit call for 5,000 homes in 24 months.

"I think you have the players here," Rutenberg said. "Let's let them work."

Builders and developers spoke about the difficulties finding enough licensed electricians, plumbers and other contractors in North Dakota, and the need to do a lot more planning to get


"Building up here is kind of like building on the moon," said Clint Wilson of HybridCore Homes, a California-based company. "If you haven't brought it with you, you're going to have a delay for trying to complete your project."

Kenyon Noble Lumber & Hardware and affiliated company Bozeman Brick of Bozeman, Mont., sponsored several meals during the summit and handed out notepads, pens and other freebies to participants.

"We feel it's good to stay in front of people," said Chris Ogle of Kenyon Noble.

The company is supplying some materials to the Bakken and is considering a location in North Dakota, Ogle said.

"There seems like there's a need for building materials that needs to be filled," Ogle said.

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch.