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Published December 22 2010

Census: Job growth, oil boost North Dakota population by 30,400 people

Combine the estimated populations for West Fargo, Horace, Harwood and Casselton, and that figure still wouldn’t match the amount of growth North Dakota saw during the past 10 years.

State officials said they expected the 2010 census would reflect an increase, but the near-record amount took many by surprise.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s official count, released Tuesday, showed North Dakota gaining nearly 30,400 residents for a total population of 672,591, as of April 1.

That’s a 4.7 percent hike from 2000, when the population was 642,200.

Minnesota’s population saw a 7.8 percent increase since 2000, jumping from 4.9 million to more than 5.3 million.

Not unlike previous population booms in North Dakota’s history, census experts said this decade’s bounty came from the good times North Dakota saw due to job growth, business investment, a stable economy and development in the western oil patch.

“Across the board the economy in our state has been very robust, so we’ve been able to retain population and entice a fair number of people,” said Richard W. Rathge, director of the North Dakota State Data Center.

Although North Dakota has the third-lowest population in the nation, the 2010 census marks a near-historic moment.

The state population now sits about 8,300 residents short of the highest count in state history: more than 680,800 residents during the 1930 census.

The statewide population has fluctuated over the decades with sporadic bursts of rise and fall, said Rick Collin, communications and education director for the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The Great Dakota Boom between 1878 and 1890 saw the population of the then-Dakota Territory multiply by 1,000 percent – from about 16,000 to about 200,000 during those 12 years, Collin said.

Railroad expansion, the influx of European immigrants and booming business ventures all contributed to that boom and a second one that followed a few years later, he said.

From 1898 to 1915, the population jumped 135 percent from 270,000 to 637,000, Collin said.

After reaching a peak with the 1930 census, North Dakota saw a drop of nearly 40,000 people by 1940 – largely due to struggles brought on by the Dirty Thirties and the Great Depression, he said.

In the decades since, North Dakota’s population has seen periods of both increase and decline.

While strong job growth and business investment helped contribute to the 2010 census results, Rathge said there’s no doubt development in western North Dakota’s oil patch also played a pivotal role.

However, the numbers to illustrate that conclusion won’t be available for several weeks, he said.

In February, the U.S. Census Bureau will release more-detailed population counts for specific communities across North Dakota, down to the street level.

That data also will influence how seats are redistricted for the Legislature, affecting representation starting in 2013.

Populations on the rise


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541