Minnesota town’s strategy for growth focused on senior housing

WARREN, Minn. — Recent strategic moves to keep this town of 1,600 vibrant are not focused on attracting new residents.

Instead, they’re aimed at retaining their current ones.

The targets are not young families, but rather the likes of 92-year-old Ernest Slusar and 83-year-old Lyla Golden, who have each lived virtually their entire lives here in the Marshall County seat.

Both are still living independently. Slusar drives a monstrous pickup. He does his own laundry. And he fixes most of his meals. However, he plans to move into an under-construction, 20-unit assisted living complex that should be ready for occupants in the spring.

Because his arthritis is worsening, it’s time to get more help, he said. However, he said he doesn’t need more complete care offered at the Good Samaritan Society Nursing Home.

“My mind is good, but that doesn’t help me tie my shoes,” he said. “I’m slowing down.”

The assisted living units will be connected to the nursing home, which is connected to the under-construction medical center, expected to open in October.

Golden will be moving into twin homes across the street from the medical/retirement living complex in the southeast corner of town. Four units have been sold and are under construction, with room for 22 more. People at or near retirement age are the targeted buyers because the twin homes have only one level.

“As a widow, with a two-story house and a basement, it’s time to move into smaller quarters,” Golden said. “Plus, I have all these steps to deal with, with my laundry in the basement.”

Golden, a resident for the last 79 years, wants to stay in Warren.

“It’s my home and all my friends are here,” she said. “With the hospital, Good Samaritan and assisted living right across the street from my twin home, it will be very convenient.

“It will be kind of like having our own small town.”

New hospital

In the middle of it all is Phil Thompson.

He’s one of three local investors in the twin-home project. And he’s the chairman of the Warren Economic Development Authority, an arm of the city that is financing the $3.8 million assisted living complex that will be managed by Good Samaritan.

However, Thompson said, the key is the $15 million upgrade of North Valley Health Center, which will have 12 hospital rooms and a clinic. Local residents got the project rolling with $1.7 million in donations and the effort attracted a $13.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The former facility had multiple problems, development director Ginny Kruger said.

“Having a modern hospital makes it easier to attract more professionals and once you have them, you get (more patients),” Thompson said. “We also have had people leaving town to get that link to assisted living. And the twin-homes style works well for retired people.

“All the pieces go together and feed off each other.”

Adding housing options and a dramatically improved medical facility provides a more reliable magnet for attracting residents than recruiting a major employer, Thompson said.

“We’ve accepted our fate of not chasing industry because it’s too expensive,” he said. “And, even if you get one, you’re always in competition to keep it.”

Housing demand

Finding housing for the likes of Slusar and Golden has a residual effect.

“We need a suitable place for older people so that will open up housing for younger people,” Thompson said. “There’s a big housing demand here. Houses up for sale don’t last long.”

That’s because Warren has evolved into a bedroom community of sorts. Being about 30 miles from Crookston, Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks, a growing number of residents are commuting to work. Warren also has gained stability from its flood protection system after chronic flooding in the 1990s.

The bottom line, Thompson said, is that having a modern medical facility is a major reason for living in Warren. However, that isn’t enough if the housing options fall short, he said.
“We have a lot of residents over 55 and 65 who have lived their whole lives here and want to continue living here,” he said. “This may not be the key to success, but it is part of the key.