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Photos by Courtney Sinner/DL Newspapers In Dynamic Homes' factory, workers construct many different homes at once using an assembly line system.

Dynamic Homes stays ahead of market by being, well, Dynamic

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Detroit Lakes,Minnesota 56501 http://www.dl-online.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/5/0304/dyn-homes-building-house.jpg?itok=ORrstQ36
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Dynamic Homes stays ahead of market by being, well, Dynamic
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

While most construction companies sit idly from lack of building projects and jobs are few and far between, one, Detroit Lakes-based Dynamic Homes, continued to produce 50 out of 52 weeks of the year in 2008 - the only company in the Upper Midwest to do so - and they expect business to be up again in 2009.

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And although executives say they never quite saw the building boom that larger markets did (so it might be why they haven't quite felt the pinch), they credit their product diversity, or dynamic-ness if you will, and dedicated employees for their long-term success.

The company, which builds modular homes and commercial buildings, was in its infancy in 1969 but was undercapitalized, current Vice President of Sales and Marketing Tim Olson said, so the Lund Boat company purchased Dynamic Homes in 1970.

That lasted until 1973 when the Lund proprietors opted to let Dynamic Homes go, and it became a publicly traded company, remaining that way until 2000, when owners made it private again.

Now entering its 40th year, Dynamic Homes has produced more than 10,000 houses and commercial properties for buyers in six upper Midwest states: Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

"We're going to be around a while," Olson said.

Modular buildings are created in sections in a factory setting, complete with everything from cabinets and countertops to flooring and sinks, then transported to the site via wide semi and assembled.

Olson likened the process to a puzzle -- where the pieces are created in a controlled environment and put together later, unlike a traditionally built house (which they call "stick-built") that might take longer because builders are dealing with things like weather.

In the factory, the sections, or modules, are rolled out (literally, rolled on tracks created by the company's founder) with assembly line precision.

In the massive factory on Roosevelt Avenue, employees work on a dozen different homes at once, each at a different stage in the process. Olson said they finish one and a half houses every day.

They produce 200 homes a year at that rate compared to three or four that a regular contractor would produce (and also get inspected by more organizations more often), so they get many of the high-quality supplies at a bulk discount, which can trickle down to savings for the consumer.

Dynamic Homes President Paul Okeson said the price compares "apples to apples," but many of their houses wind up being slightly cheaper simply because "stick-built" homes rarely come in at or below budget.

Picking trims, flooring, and other home finishes can also be less of a headache, since Dynamic has many in-house options.

Buildings assembled modularly also go up much faster. The average stick-built home takes upwards of six months from start to finish, but for Dynamic Homes, many of their houses are ready to move into within 90 days of placing an order.

Most of their homes are 2, 3, or 4 modules that get put together by a crane on site, but Olson said they've done a 10-module house before and are working with a prospective buyer for a 12-module home.

And while the company has a number of floor plans to choose from (everything from ramblers and split levels to chalets and two-stories), 85 percent of the homes they build are completely customized -- something both Olson and Okeson say they've both done for themselves a handful of times.

"I wouldn't build a home any other way," Olson said.

For Olson and Okeson, much of their time on the job is spent dispelling myths about modular homes.

"I used to think it was trailer homes when I came to work here," Okeson, who has worked with the company for five years, said, "but there's a difference."

Similarly, Olson said the "M" in "modular" often gets mistaken for "mobile," but "it's just how the house comes to the job. That's the only difference."

The vast majority of the homes are built with a full basement, too, since the typical excavating, digging and foundation process is done before the modules arrive to the site, so buyers have the option of installing a basement.

It's not a finished basement, though. Buyers are left to finish that separately, one of the few limitations that modular homes have.

"Our job every day is to educate," Olson said. "There are people who come in here, and it's our job to get rid of their predetermined thoughts, and they realize it's a sophisticated process."

At the end of the day though, Dynamic Homes relies on its employees, everyone from the front desk receptionist to electricians and plumbers. More than half have been employed by Dynamic Homes for upwards of 15 or 20 years. Olson has been there for 30 years -- and one factory worker said he started at Dynamic just three days after his high school graduation in 1975.

"We saw a recession in the early '80s, and we survived because of our product and our employees, and I think that recession was worse," Olson said. "We're starting to see it turn around, we're starting to see more activity."

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