BISMARCK, N.D. _ There were 12 homes for sale in Steele last year and they all sold. Another 12 lots in Wilton sold quickly as well. For larger towns like Bismarck, it may not seem like much, but in a small town people take notice.

Residents preferring small town life are moving into “bedroom communities.” They’re not boom towns but they are growing.

In the towns of Steele, which is about 40 miles east of Bismarck on Interstate 94, and Wilton, which is about 20 miles north of Bismarck on U.S. Highway 83, residents say it’s the lower cost of living and less crowded schools that make the area attractive.

“Cost of living is the main driver,” said Terry Strand, president of the Steele Betterment Club. “You’ll pay $150,000 for a home in Bismarck. For $150,000 you can get a nicer home in Steele.”

On top of the 12 homes that sold, Strand said four homes were built in town over the last year. He said the trend of new people moving to town has been most noticable in the last two years.

Troy Winger, manager of the Coffee Cup Fuel Stop gas station in Steele, said he knows people in town who live in Steele and drive to Bismarck for work. He said rapid growth in towns to the west is pushing people to look at small communities farther east.

“They’re just looking for a nice community to raise a family,” he said.

Winger is doing some expanding of his own. Coffee Cup will increase its space by 50 percent over the next year, adding new fueling islands and franchise food options — a Caribou Coffee, Subway and Pizza Hut Express.

Winger said the construction started this month and will be finished next summer. The existing space will be remodeled, seating will be added, restrooms and shower rooms will be remodeled, the convenience store area will be expanded and offsale beer will be added.

“We’ve always had good food sales here. The decision was an easy one,” he said.

A 15- to 20-unit storage facility is the newest business in town. There also is talk of a new hotel in

Steele after the Lone Steer burned down last year, Strand said.

Strand said the town would like to have a 31-room Cobblestone Inn and is meeting next month with investors. If plans go through, construction crews will start digging the foundation next spring.

Wilton’s Mayor Ron Peck said new businesses are scarce in his town because competing with Bismarck stores is too difficult. When it comes to residential, though, everything that comes up for sale is sold quickly. He said the town is growing but city government is keeping the growth slow and manageable.

“Most residents want to keep it a bedroom community,” he said.

The 12 lots sold in town last year had been owned by the city. Peck said the town listed the lots with a real estate agent and “all of a sudden they just went boom, sold.”

Peck said the 2010 Census estimated the town had 730 to 760 residents. He said the town has about 800 people now and 305 homes. There are 20 lots that can be built on.

Wilton isn’t far from the power plants and coal mines to the north and west. Many live in Wilton and commute there for work. Another 50 percent commute to Bismarck.

“When the boom got going, some people wanted to move out of that area,” said Cary Anderson, vice president and branch manager of Wilton’s bank. “The last few years we’ve gotten people moving out of Minot.”

The bank in Wilton was bought by Union Bank of Beulah, which also will give residents access to a real estate loan program they didn’t have before. Union Bank took over Aug. 1, Senior Vice President Dean Bergstedt said.

Bergstedt said it is the bank’s priority to do what it can to promote growth in the town.

“We’re here to be available for that,” he said.

The bank is still going through organizational changes but Bergstedt said by the first part of next year it will be “more aggressive with loans” and looking for new business.

Peck said he would like to see a new school for the town with new students coming, not only from Wilton, but from Wing, Regan and Baldwin too.

“It’s a great community,” he said. He added that the growth has to be controlled for infrastructure but “if more people desire to move here, we’ll look at that.”

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com.