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Heidi Shaffer, Published March 24 2010

20 counties in North Dakota see population growth in 2009

Twenty North Dakota counties showed population growth in 2009, according to new census estimates released Tuesday.

Cass County experienced the largest growth, with 3,123 people, followed by Burleigh, with 1,377; Ward, with 908; and Williams, with 654.

And while the actual gains in some of the western counties may seem small compared to those of the more populous counties in the east, the estimates point to an important trend, said Richard Rathge, director of the North Dakota Data Center.

“What’s impressive about the current estimates is the tremendous strength in the population shifts in the western part of North Dakota. Historically it’s been in the eastern part of the state that’s shown growth,” Rathge said.

Rathge credits jobs in the energy industry for the growth out west, but said a strong state economy and low unemployment rates helped North Dakota’s overall population numbers.

Rathge, a North Dakota State University professor, worked on the data released by the North Dakota Census Committee.

The estimates are based on 2000 census information and applying administrative records, such as births, deaths and IRS information to track migration trends.

North Dakota’s net growth was 5,423 people, bringing the state’s estimated population to 646,844.

The Fargo-Moorhead metro area saw an increase of 4,154 for the year, pushing the population to 200,102.

And while reaching the 200,000 mark is not a major threshold for companies looking to expand, an increasing population is a good way to attract new industry, said Brian Walters, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

“Despite the fact that we had a major recession … last year and the major flooding event, the fact we had a population growth I think it says a lot about the strength of our local economy as well as our employers,” Walters said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 235-7311