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Mike Nowatzki and Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published December 30 2013

ND sets record population of 723,393, up 22,048 from last year

BISMARCK – An influx of new residents lured in part by the state’s booming energy industry catapulted North Dakota to a record high population of 723,393 on July 1, making it the fastest-growing state in the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Monday.

The increase of 22,048 people over the revised July 2012 estimate represented a 3.14 percent population increase. Colorado had the next highest rate of increase among the 50 states, at 1.61 percent.

North Dakota’s record doesn’t count the droves of out-of-state workers who travel to the state for jobs, many staying for weeks at a time – a figure that State Census Office Manager Kevin Iverson roughly estimated could be as high as 40,000 to 60,000 people, though he acknowledged that with limited data, it’s “really tough to get a handle on it.”

Regardless, the July 2013 record is evidence that new residents are flocking to North Dakota, Iverson said.

“This is clearly migration,” he said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple welcomed the record estimate, saying in a statement that after years of out-migration and population decline, economic growth continues to keep North Dakotans at home, attract new residents and “give us even more reason to be very optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead.”

North Dakota’s population peaked at 680,845 in 1930, a record that stood until the July 2011 estimate of 684,740, which has since been revised to 684,867. The Census Bureau revises its estimates every year based on additional data collected, Iverson said.

Last year’s July 1 estimate of 699,628 – which would mean a 3.4 percent increase when compared with this year’s estimate – was revised to 701,345. So, depending on how one looks at it, either last year or this year marked a milestone for the state in surpassing 700,000 residents.

“We changed the first digit. We haven’t done that for 100 years,” Iverson said, referring to how the state broke the 600,000-person barrier between the 1910 and 1920 censuses.

After being one of the few states to lose population in the early 2000s, North Dakota has gained population every year since 2004’s estimate of about 645,000. The state has added about 78,000 residents since then, driven in part by oil and gas mining activity in the western half of the state.

North Dakota State University researchers Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund, who have been studying population growth in North Dakota’s Oil Patch, said they were not surprised by the census estimates.

“We’ve got a smoking white-hot economy right now, and that creates jobs. And when you create jobs, you attract people,” Hodur said.

A population increase of 3.4 percent in one year is substantial, and highlights why North Dakota communities are experiencing housing shortages and other growing pains, Bangsund said.

“Growth rates over 3 percent are typically considered pretty unusual,” Bangsund said. “That’s a very robust growth that would challenge most government jurisdictions to deal with that type of change.”

Iverson said the state’s population growth rate, which was 1.56 percent in 2011 and 2.4 percent in 2012 based on revised census estimates, may begin to slow.

“I have a hard time believing we’re going to maintain this rate of growth, just because of the infrastructural issues we’ve run into now,” he said.

The state’s population also has been getting younger, with census data showing the median age of residents dropping from 37.3 years in 2008 to 36.1 years in 2012, according to census figures cited by the governor’s office.

A younger population could lead to future population growth, Bangsund said.

“If we kept all those young people, we could see population growth return because of an increase in the number of little kids and family growth,” he said.

Iverson said he anticipates that county- and metro-area census data expected to be released in March will show growth across the state, not just in the west.

The Census Bureau estimated Minnesota’s population increased by 0.76 percent from 2012 to 2013, while Montana’s population grew by 0.96 percent and South Dakota’s by 1.3 percent.