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Housing needs: Panelists talk development at Kulm forum

A crowd listens to a discussion Wednesday during a housing development forum in Kulm. John M. Steiner / The Sun1 / 2
Andrew McDermid, president of Kulm Community Development Corp., moderates a housing development forum on Wednesday in Kulm. John M. Steiner / The Sun 2 / 2

KULM, N.D. – Housing, quality of life, job growth and economic vitality are all linked with development, according to panelists at a forum here Wednesday.

The forum offered a conversation on development with a process that involves many agencies, said Joshua Gackle, a Kulm City Council member.

“We’ve sat in city council meetings in the past and talked about programs we knew existed but did not know where where to look,” Gackle said. “Today, they were all here.”

The city of Kulm and the Kulm Community Development Corp. are attempting to simultaneously create new jobs, attract new workers and find senior-friendly housing for its aging population, he said. The forum helped to explore ideas on how the Kulm CDC can develop a recently purchased property from the city to build more senior housing and free up larger homes for new residents, he said.

“It’s been a challenge to find young workers,” Gackle said. “It’s not like a mad rush of people but there are people coming in and looking for better housing options and sometimes they go elsewhere.”

The timing for development is important as two nearby wind farm projects stand to bring 16 to 24 permanent jobs to the immediate area, said Andrew McDermid, president of the Kulm CDC, who moderated the two panel events of community and statewide officials involved in rural development.

The panelists included local business leaders and directors of various public and nonprofit housing agencies around the state, at the invitation of Bill Davis, acting state director for USDA Rural Development in North Dakota. Davis said the energy and enthusiasm of the Kulm community are reflective of rural communities statewide.

“We wanted to highlight these area communities with a ‘can do’ attitude,” Davis said.

The panelists offered advice for cities looking to develop. An inventory of the status and availability of existing housing to determine anticipated need is the starting point for planning and participation in grant programs.

Joel Manske, director of the North Dakota Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, encouraged cities to make an investment in capacity. However, he said development is a complex endeavor and that consulting or engineering firms are often more capable of doing the work and avoiding unforeseen problems long after a project it completed.

“It’s like peeling an onion when you try to do an investment in a subdivision,” Manske said. “There may be eight or 10 different forms of funding that come into play and it does take that expertise to be able to implement complicated projects and regulatory and statutory requirements that come with funding streams that operate these programs.”