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Demographic shift after flood prompts senior living development in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS -- Despite being based in Grand Forks for almost 20 years and constructing dozens of projects elsewhere, Edgewood Group hasn't built a senior living facility in the city.

GRAND FORKS -- Despite being based in Grand Forks for almost 20 years and constructing dozens of projects elsewhere, Edgewood Group hasn't built a senior living facility in the city.

That's poised to change this year with the construction of a facility near Altru Health System's main campus. For Edgewood executives, the decision against building here at the turn of the century was a matter of the community's shifting demographics in the years after the devastating Red River Flood of 1997.

Edgewood CEO Phil Gisi said Grand Forks saw a "huge exodus" of people about age 60 to 70 who still were living in their homes.

"They were preparing to retire and eventually move into assisted living or something like that," he said from Edgewood's downtown office. "That demographic changed significantly (after the flood wiped out homes). So back in 2000, when we wanted to build, we decided there's not a need."

But those trends have changed since then, Gisi said, and he expects demand for senior living communities to grow in the next few years as baby boomers continue to age.

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Gisi cited age and income levels as factors they keep an eye on. Those numbers also can help project what type of accommodations a resident will need.

"People between 70 and 80, a certain percentage of those people have memory loss and some of it is significant enough that they need to be in a secure facility," he said. "And then a certain percentage needs assistance with activities and daily living. The demographic gives you a number of what the demand is, and you simply subtract off what's already in the community."

Census figures show the number of residents ages 65 and older in Grand Forks County was hovering between 6,200 and 6,400 in the early 2000s. But that population has grown steadily since then, with 6,393 in 2005 and an estimated 7,870 in 2014.

Grand Forks isn't alone in its growing senior population. Roughly 10,000 people turn 65 every day, according to the Pew Research Center.

"The big demand for senior housing is going to hit in about 2017 to 2020 and go up from there," Gisi said. "What we do is look at those future growth rates and try to build facilities in communities where we know there's going to be a need. And now Grand Forks is finally there; there seems to be a need for senior housing."

Edgewood started in Minot but moved to Grand Forks in 1997. The corporate office was Gisi's dining room in those early days.

Today, the company has about 2,500 employees and more than 50 senior facilities, including independent and assisted living as well as memory care, across seven states.

Despite waiting to build a senior facility in Grand Forks, the company has a significant local presence. It purchased Parkwood Senior Living from Altru last year and has had a memory care facility in East Grand Forks for about 20 years. Edgewood Group is headquartered in the former First National Bank building at 322 DeMers Ave., now owned by Edgewood.

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The company employs about 300 in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Gisi said, and the memory care and assisted living facility at the corner of South 34th Street and 11th Avenue South in Grand Forks will add about 80 to 90 employees. Gisi expects construction on that project to begin in the middle of this year with an opening of April 2017.

While Edgewood sees the demand for senior housing in its own backyard, the industry as a whole saw an increase in senior housing in recent years, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care.

The number of memory care units increased by 27 percent, or 20,000 units, over the past three years in the largest 99 U.S. markets. Meanwhile, assisted living saw an 8 percent jump with 24,000 units, and independent living grew by 1 percent, representing 3,200 units, according to NIC's Chief Economist Beth Burnham Mace.

She said the 2020s will see the first baby boomers turning 80--which is what she said is the starting age for a typical senior housing resident.

"I would think that you'd see an increase in housing for seniors, for sure," Burnham Mace said.

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