A strong economy has helped push North Dakota to the top of the chart of the nation's fastest-growing areas.
For the second year, Williston led the nation last year as the fastest-growing micropolitan area, according to new population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau today. Dickinson has been the second fastest-growing, and Minot was fifth, behind Heber, Utah, and Andrews, Texas.
Minot's micropolitan area, which includes Ward, McHenry and Renville counties, had an estimated population of 76,520, or a 3.7 percent growth rate from July 2012 to July 2013. It recorded 5 percent growth from the 2010 census. Ward County's population was estimated at 67,990 for 3.9 percent growth from 2012 to 2013.
The new Silver Springs housing development in Surrey, shown March 24, is among growth areas pushing Ward County’s population higher.
Recently built homes in north Minot, shown Wednesday, are among signs that the area’s population has grown.
Williston's micropolitan area, consisting of Williams County, grew 10.7 percent. Williams was the nation's fastest-growing county of 10,000 or more population, well head of the 5.5 percent growth in second-place Duchesne, Utah. Dickinson, whose micropolitan area is Stark County, grew 5 percent, which also ranked Stark as the fourth fastest-growing county in the nation.
North Dakota's estimated population is 723,393, up about 3 percent from 2012.
"What I find a little surprising is how balanced it is between east and west," said Kevin Iverson, manager of the State Census Office in the North Dakota Department of Commerce. "The bottom line is it appears that every region in the state has grown, not necessarily every county but every region."
Fifty-five percent of the growth is occurring in western North Dakota and 45 percent in the eastern region, he said. Fargo was the nation's fourth fastest-growing metropolitan area and Bismarck was fifth, both with 3.1 percent growth from July 2012 to July 2013.
Oil- and gas-rich areas in and near the Great Plains contained many of the fastest-growing areas in the country last year, according to a Census Bureau report. Six of the 10 fastest-growing metropolitan statistical areas in the year ending July 1, 2013, were in Texas, Wyoming or North Dakota.
Micropolitan statistical areas, which contain an urban cluster of between 10,000 and 49,999 people, followed a similar pattern, with seven located in or adjacent to the Great Plains among the fastest-growing between 2012 and 2013. They included areas in North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.
Dunn, N.C., had the largest numeric increase among micropolitan areas, growing by 2,855 people between 2012 and 2013. Williston was second with growth of 2,851 and Minot was third with 2,724.
More than half of all U.S. micropolitan areas lost population between 2012 and 2013, the Census Bureau reported. Those with more than 50,000 people tended to gain, while smaller micropolitan areas lost population.
A similar trend exists in North Dakota, with larger population areas doing better than less populated counties.
"Since the 2010 census, what this estimate points to is 39 counties gaining population and 14 counties losing population, and if you look at who is losing population, it tends to be the smaller counties," Iverson said. Except for Burleigh and Cass counties, all North Dakota counties have lost population at one time and many have seen decades of losses. That trend is changing, though, even for the smaller counties, Iverson said.
"They are losing population, but they are losing it at a lesser rate than we have seen in the past," he said.
Wells County lost 1.6 percent from 2012 to 2013, but previous gains leave the population about the same as the official census in 2010. Burke County, an even smaller county but nearer the oil patch, grew nearly 5.9 percent over the year. Divide County grew about 3.6 percent.
Growth rates of other area counties include: Bottineau, 2.2 percent; McHenry, 2.1 percent; McKenzie, 16.5 percent; McLean, 1.6 percent; Mountrail, 7 percent; Renville, 2 percent; and Rolette, 1.6 percent. Pierce County showed a loss of a fraction of a percent last year but still has grown 2 percent since 2010.
Minot city manager David Waind said the city is estimating its population at 50,000, based on a study indicating Minot had between 46,000 and 48,000 residents in 2012. If that growth rate is correct, then Ward County's census estimate appears low.
"Certainly our feeling has been, over the years, that the census estimates tend to be on the low side," Waind said.
Iverson said census estimates have difficulty in capturing the population during an energy boom. Many people working and using services in western North Dakota may list residency elsewhere on their federal tax returns, which is where they would be counted in the census estimates, he said. Oil workers living in work camps typically aren't counted.
The good news for Ward County is recent estimates put the population at greater than 65,000, Iverson said. The American Community Survey compiles annual data related to demographics, income, housing and other census information for counties of 65,000 or more population. Smaller counties receive the information based on a three-year data sets. Communities use the information in their planning efforts.