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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published May 20 2009

North Dakota’s a leader in babies

BISMARCK – Activity in North Dakota’s oil patch may have helped create a different sort of boom in the state: babies.

Young adults have been moving to the state – or staying – because of a strong economy, spurred largely by growth in the state’s oil patch, said Richard Rathge, the state Data Center director and North Dakota demographer.

“More young adults usually means more babies,” Rathge said.

New Census Bureau numbers show North Dakota led the nation between 2007 and 2008 in the number of children younger than 1. The total went from 8,662 to 8,998, a 3.9 percent increase.

North Dakota’s small population makes its ranking volatile, Rathge said. But he sees a positive population trend.

While the increase is not officially broken down by county, residents in southwestern North Dakota can see it there.

“We had twins six months ago today,” Duane Bowman of Bowman said Tuesday. “There’s quite a few people keeping track. We know our boys are going to be part of a large class.”

Bowman figures about 30 babies have been born in the area in the past year.

“Births are definitely up,” said Dr. Lisa Kozel, a pediatrician at Mid Dakota Clinic in Bismarck.

“Until a year and a half ago, a birth rate of 100 a month was rare,” Kozel said of the births handled by doctors at her clinic. “Now it’s 110 to 120 babies a month.”

The clinic has patients from Bismarck and throughout rural North Dakota.

“North Dakota’s economy is in better condition than some other parts of the country, and that may have had an impact,” said Shannon Bradley, an ob-gyn at the Mid Dakota Clinic. “I think people who aren’t faced with economic troubles are more apt to be open to the financial decision of having a baby.”

Census Bureau estimates say 122 more people came to North Dakota than left the state in 2008, Rathge said.

“This is the first time in nearly two decades we’ve had positive immigration,” Rathge said. The state has had losses of up to 10,000 people a year, he said.

“Not to be cavalier here – a positive immigration of 122 people is a lot for North Dakota,” he said. The state’s robust economy, led by the state’s oil patch, probably accounted for the population increase, he said.

North Dakota produced a record 67.2 million barrels of oil last year.

The Census Bureau’s most recent estimate put the state’s population at 641,481, up 3,577 from 2007, but down from 642,200 in 2000.

Rathge said 12 of the 16 western North Dakota counties in the state’s oil patch had a population increase in 2008.

“We have a robust economy, and the likelihood of this population trend continuing is really high and really great news for North Dakota,” Rathge said.

Kozel said North Dakota’s harsh winter – the worst in at least a decade – could contribute to even more births this year.

“I’m sure people were probably staying indoors more,” Kozel said.

Teran Doerr, the office manager at the Bowman Chamber of Commerce, said she and her husband are natives of the area who returned about two years ago from out of state. The community attracts young people, she said.

The community of Bowman has about 1,800 people, said Duane Bowman, who got a bank job there when he was in college.

“We’re kind of proud of our little town,” he said.

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