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Dave Olson, Published December 18 2009

Officials: Census may hold good news for North Dakota

The 2010 Census could bring good news to North Dakota.

Although the state’s population began falling after the 2000 Census, when the number stood at 642,200, it has been growing in recent years.

In 2008, the estimate stood at 641,481.

Things look even rosier when you peer deeper into the trends, according to Richard Rathge, director of the North Dakota State Data Center.

Rathge said the historical pattern in North Dakota has been one of out-migration.

But that pattern could be changing.

“Last year was the first year we turned on the positive side for quite some time. That’s largely because of energy development activity on the western side of the state,” Rathge said.

“Likewise,” he added, “I’ve been state demographer for over a quarter of a century, this is the first time I’ve seen the majority of counties that were growing in North Dakota west of the Missouri (River).

“Those are the counties that have historically declined since the early ’50s, so that’s really positive news,” Rathge said.

Another positive has been the state’s birth rate, he said.

Birth rates, which declined consistently between 1982 and the early 2000s, started going up in 2003.

“Which is tremendous news,” Rathge said. “We’re seeing an increase in young adults, finally.”

Although officials say North Dakota’s population likely won’t grow enough to gain a second U.S. representative, it is important to get an accurate count for many reasons, according to Rod Backman, chairman of the North Dakota Complete Count Committee.

“There are a lot of federal programs that are based on population. On the community level, it can amount to significant federal assistance, especially over a 10-year period,” Backman said.

He said state officials approved spending $100,000 on promoting the 2010 count. So far, he said, most of the dollars have gone for things like printing flyers.

Come spring, Backman said, there will be a concerted effort to have inserts placed in things like water and power bills.

Backman said current estimates of the state’s population are questioned by some who feel the number is actually much higher.

“There’s a lot of data out there that points to the fact we have a larger population. This is our chance to prove it,” he said.

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Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555