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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 01 2013

Metro could grow to 300,000 people within 30 years

FARGO - The Fargo-Moorhead area will have 270,000 to 300,000 residents by 2040, shows a study from the F-M Metropolitan Council of Governments. It’s a huge jump from the 208,777 people the Census found here in 2010.

The “Demographic Forecast Study for the FM Metropolitan Area” also includes best guesses on where people will live, how many households they’ll make up, and the number of jobs available.

Those numbers will be used to help reset the area’s 30-year transportation plan for road, bridge and highway improvements, said Wade Kline, MetroCOG’s executive director.

Kline said getting needed work done between 2015 and 2040 won’t be easy, particularly with tight federal dollars.

“When we develop our long-range plan, we just can’t make up improvements to the transport system,” he said. “We have to have a balanced checkbook. It’s going to be a real challenge. Local communities want development, but at the same time, there are costs for that.”

Growth, but how much?

The MetroCOG study uses two economic and demographic scenarios.

Scenario A calls for the local economy to stay on a roll as the nation lags. It puts more people, jobs and homes in the F-M area.

Scenario B is less rosy for F-M. In it, the national economy revs up, leading to slower growth here.

A major assumption for both scenarios is that a diversion channel will be built, giving long-term flood protection to the F-M area. The optimistic track has the channel finished by 2021. The more conservative outlook has it being done by 2025.

On the high side, the F-M metropolitan statistical area – encompassing all of Cass and Clay counties – could have 298,070 people by 2040, or 42.8 percent more than in 2010.

The more conservative estimate has 273,230 people living here, or 30.9 percent more than in 2010.

Darrick Guthmiller, president of the Home Builder’s Association of Fargo-Moorhead, was surprised by the projections.

“That’s a little bit more than I expected to hear,” he said.

In Scenario A, West Fargo starts with 25,830 residents in 2010, but by 2040 has 45,190 residents.

Fargo starts with 105,549 in 2010, and then jumps to 154,170. Moorhead starts with 38,065, then jumps to 54,990.

Horace and Dilworth see more modest gains. In 2010, Horace had 2,430 residents, but by 2040 has 2,940. Dilworth starts with 4,024 residents in 2010, and has 5,600 in 2040.

Under Scenario B, West Fargo’s growth is even more robust, with 47,410 residents predicted in 2040. Fargo sees much slower growth, with 135,900 residents in 2040. Moorhead’s growth is also slowed, with 50,830 residents in 2040.

Growth in Horace and Dilworth is also slower in the conservative take. Horace has 2,710 residents by 2040, while Dilworth has 5,250.

Of course, not everyone is interested in joining the rush to urbanize.

Casey Steichen lives in Horace in a rented trailer with her husband and two children, ages 3 and 6 months.

Steichen said she grew up in Casselton, N.D., and her husband grew up in Horace. They’re actively looking for a home in the small towns on the periphery of the F-M metro area, like Horace, Casselton and Kindred.

“It is really important to me for my kids to go to a smaller school,” Steichen said. “But we still want to be close to Fargo for work and grocery shopping and all of that fun stuff.”

They’re not alone in what has become a seller’s market, she said.

“There seems to be a lot of competition. As soon as we find one we like, it seems to be selling right away,” Steichen said. “They (rural homes) go really quick.”

Households need homes

As the population rises, there is expected to be an increase in the number of households in the area.

Part of the projected increase in households may be tied to the shrinking size of the average family and households as a whole. But whether houses, apartments or condominiums are needed by new residents – retirees, empty nesters or young families – each household will need a place to call home.

In 2010, there were 86,178 households in the F-M area. The optimistic outlook has 122,060 households in the metropolitan statistical area by 2040. The more conservative estimate is 114,160 households by 2040.

Guthmiller, who is also the manager of Kochmann Brothers Homes, on Thursday showed off a two-story home his firm is building a stone’s throw from the Sheyenne River. The home is just a couple miles south of Interstate 94 in a booming housing area for West Fargo.

“As builders, we’re going to go where the demand is. If you look at the building permits, the demand will be in West Fargo,” he said. “Ten years ago, if you had said West Fargo would be growing this fast, some people wouldn’t have believed you.”

The local housing market has bounced back from the recent recession, and home starts and sales are near the 2007 mark, when the economy was chugging along and flood worries had faded in the area, he said.

But will there be enough developable land in the metro area in the future to meet the predicted demand?

“That’s a good question,” Guthmiller said.

Fargo can go southward, he said. But West Fargo is filling in quickly. Two years ago, there was little development south of the interstate in West Fargo. Now it’s filling in fast, Guthmiller said.

Gotta work to eat

While a lot of people may flock to the area, there’s also this question: Will there be enough jobs?

The 2010 Census shows the F-M metropolitan planning area – eight townships on each side of the Red River that comprise the metro area – had 118,266 jobs in 2010.

The optimistic outlook has 162,429 jobs in the area by 2040.

Fargo would jump from the 91,071 jobs seen in 2010 to 121,700. West Fargo would go from 9,010 jobs to 15,811. And Moorhead would go from 14,724 jobs to 20,863.

The more bearish estimate calls for 146,158 jobs in F-M by 2040.

In the more conservative estimate, Fargo goes from the 91,071 jobs in 2010 to 121,272 in 2040. West Fargo would go from 9,010 jobs to 12,348. And Moorhead would go from 14,724 jobs to 19,009.

James Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., said the job estimates are in line with what he’s seen elsewhere.

“We see the growth in Fargo Moorhead and the Red River Valley as a whole as being incredibly dynamic in the next 20 or 30 years,” Gartin said.

“Technology, IT (information technology), life sciences, I think that those things will continue to grow as primary-sector leaders, which will spur additional service and retail growth,” he said.

Gartin said the bulk of growth in this area will come in the technology and value-added agriculture sectors.

Gartin said to create and fill those jobs, it will be important to bolster the area’s education system from pre-kindergarten through college and post-graduate studies, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math.

But not everyone will need a four-year degree, Gartin said. Two-year degrees in specialty areas such as robotics repair or laboratory technician will also yield good jobs, he said.


The “Demographic Forecast Study for the FM Metropolitan Area” can be accessed by going to www.fmmetrocog.org and clicking on Resources, then News and Events, then 2012 Demographic Forecast

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583