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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published December 20 2012

Census: North Dakota fastest-growing state in nation

BISMARCK — North Dakota is the leading the nation in population growth and the number of residents in the state is at all-time high, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bureau's most recent estimate put the state population at 699,628 in July, up from 684,740 in July 2011. Census data show North Dakota's total population jumped 2.17 percent over the past year and the state's growth percentage is nearly three times faster than the national average.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he welcomes the growth in North Dakota, which had recorded decades of population decline. North Dakota's strong economy led by its booming oil patch in the western part of the state has attracted thousands of new residents in the past few years.

"It's good to see that our economic growth continues to keep North Dakotans home and that we are attracting new residents throughout the state who come for good jobs, a strong economy and our excellent quality of life," Dalrymple said in a statement.

The state's population has increased by almost 67,000 residents from a decade low of 632,809 reported in 2003.

North Dakota has gone from the nation's ninth-biggest oil producer in 2006 to the second this year, behind only Texas. The state has some 22,000 more jobs than takers and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 2.4 percent, Job Service North Dakota data show.

"We're growing because of the economy and jobs," said Rod Backman, chairman of the North Dakota Census Committee, a group consisting of representatives from several state agencies. "Obviously oil is a big part of it but it's not the only part. There is job growth in a lot of sectors, and not just in the west."

North Dakota's population had peaked at 680,845 in 1930, and was surpassed only last year. The state still ranks 48th in total population, ahead of only Vermont and Wyoming, data show. Alaska, which has a population of 731,449, surpassed North Dakota in the past decade.

Backman said the most recent census estimate for North Dakota is low because many of the oil workers living in crew camps are likely uncounted and census data from the state tax records used in calculating population lags at least a year.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.