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Published August 04, 2012, 07:00 AM

Edgewood Vista owner returns to oil roots

Thirty years ago, the oil boom went bust, and so did Phil Gisi’s job supervising finances and working on water systems for an oil field services company. Fortunately for Gisi, he was finishing his studies in business administration at UND. Which eventually led to owning Grand Forks-based Edgewood Vista.

By: Christopher Bjorke, Grand Forks Herald

Thirty years ago, the oil boom went bust, and so did Phil Gisi’s job supervising finances and working on water systems for an oil field services company.

“I really worked on everything in the oil fields,” he said. “I lost my job, I didn’t have anything.”

Fortunately for Gisi, he was finishing his studies in business administration at UND. That took him to a career managing a hospital in Minot and that led him to the assisted living industry through his company, Grand Forks-based Edgewood Vista.

And that success has taken him again to the oil fields, where his company is starting a venture supplying drilling operations with water supplied by coal-fired power plants.

Between his first venture in the oil field and his latest one, Gisi has built one of the largest private operators of assisted living-facilities in the region, with 42 properties in locations across seven states and around 1,750 employees.

Despite its size, the company has kept a low profile, headquartered in offices in the Gate City Bank building on 24th Avenue South, though Gisi will be moving the company downtown to the historic First National Bank at Fourth Street and DeMers Avenue.

Industry of the future

About 20 years ago, when he took over Edgewood Vista Senior Living, Gisi had a goal.

“Our vision was to be 20 facilities within 20 years,” he said.

Gisi did not found the company but he spotted its potential early when he was CEO of Minot’s St. Joseph’s Hospital and urged the Franciscan sisters who ran the facility to support the new company.

“I told the sisters, ‘I think you should invest in assisted living because I think it’s the industry of the future,’” Gisi said.

When the hospital passed up the chance, he became an investor in the company in 1994 and started working there full time in 1996. Gisi, a New Rockford, N.D., native, moved the company to Grand Forks in 1998. During the company’s early days, he devoted himself to scouting and analyzing potential markets to establish facilities in.

“I’d drive 100,000 miles a year then,” he said. “We decided to stay in communities of 50,000 or less and stay in the upper Midwest because we understand the people up here.”

Well beyond its goal of 20 facilities, Edgewood Vista’s facilities are found in a territory that stretches from Idaho to Minnesota and Nebraska in the south.

Gisi said the company is just getting into position for big changes in the next decade.

“The biggest trend, first of all, that I look at are birthrates,” he said.

The business is based on demographics, and the age group now using assisted-living facilities is between 75 to 90 years old and born during a time period when birthrates were low.

In the coming years, the number of people entering that age group will balloon, and Gisi is preparing for it.

“The years 2016 to 2020 are key years for us,” he said. “From 2020 to ’25, it’s going to skyrocket.”

When that happens, Gisi wants the company to be able to use its size and economies of scale to give the same care at a cost 20 percent below where it is now.

“We need to be value-oriented,” he said.

Back to the patch

While successful, Gisi’s work in the assisted -living industry does not exactly point to a venture in the oil industry.

Despite the incongruity of the two industries, Gisi maintained a connection to his old industry, in part through his brother-in-law, Orly Sinkler, who had been running an oil field services company, handling wastewater and other needs for oil companies in the west. The company, SBG Energy Services, is part of the Edgewood Group of Companies that controls the assisted-living company and Edgewood’s real estate and construction operations.

“I thought it was a good opportunity and thought he was a good manager,” Gisi said. “We’re doing more and more. It’s anything related to water.”

SBG in July announced a new partnership and a new way of delivering a necessary component of drilling: water for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The company is entering an agreement with a Utah company to acquire water used to regulate temperatures at Great River Energy’s coal-fired power plants near Stanton, N.D., and transport it to fracking sites. The system will have the capacity to load trucks with 72,000 barrels of water a day, according to a company press release.

The idea that, “Jeez, we have all of this hot water, why don’t we use it in the oil field” came from Great River, Gisi said. Fracking requires the water it uses to be at a certain temperature, and SBG’s operation will be able take the heated water from the power plants and maintain its temperature while trucking it to well sites.

Gisi plans to eventually develop a pipeline network to carry water to depots around the oil patch. He said the innovation will reduce some of the pressure on the region’s water supply, which relies in part on wells.

“This is going to significantly reduce the load they have on those aquifers,” he said. “We could supply 25 percent of the hydrofracking jobs out there.”

Gisi’s companies are part of a group of more than 100 Grand Forks area companies that have found a place in the oil boom in western North Dakota. More common in group are those that specialize in construction, engineering or transportation, rather than one with a primary operation in caring for the elderly. But for Gisi, the work is a return to his beginnings.

“I started in the oil field. That’s where I started my career,” he said.


Call Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1117; or send e-mail to cbjorke@gfherald.com.

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