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Published February 18 2014

Forum editorial: Migration to Fargo surprises

Among the eye-openers in Saturday’s Forum story about migration into North Dakota’s Cass County was the gain of 429 people from the Minneapolis area. The U.S. Census Bureau data covers the years 2007 through 2011. Cass County also gained hundreds of new residents from the St. Cloud, Minn., area, Fergus Falls, Minn., area and from Clay County (Moorhead). The influx of new residents to Cass totals in the thousands, a population shift that should be of some concern to Moorhead and Clay County in particular.

The Minneapolis-to-Fargo shift seems to signal a historic change. In the recent past, the movement was the other way as young people in droves left Fargo and Cass County for the Twin Cities. The factors behind the population movement reversal likely include jobs, educational opportunities and markedly improved quality of life in Fargo.

Other studies have found that a rising percentage of graduates of North Dakota State University stay in the state, many of them in Fargo. That statistic clearly is a function of job opportunities. Fargo’s low unemployment and the city’s diversified economy translate into good-paying jobs in fields that require higher education. The census study also covers the years when the national economy was sliding into recession, and Minnesota and the Twin Cities felt the downturn more acutely than did North Dakota and Fargo. Thus, there were more job opportunities in Fargo.

Also, Fargo is not the city it was 25 years ago. The city is stronger economically but also has amenities and attractions that might surprise the uninformed. Fargo also is among the region’s youngest cities, a circumstance that suggests educated young people recognize the benefits of living in a mid-sized metro that is well-managed, has excellent schools and affordable housing, world-class health care, boasts a vibrant business climate, and is safe.

The census study does not reflect fully the changes underway in western North Dakota because of the oil boom. But there is a qualitative difference between a boom economy and a steady-growth economy. As history demonstrates, boom implies bust, or at minimum an eventually deflating boom. On the other hand, steady broad-based growth is foundational to long-term economic stability.

Fargo is getting it right. The city has been evolving into a vibrant, attractive mid-sized metro for at least the past 20 years. People, who a generation ago might have left, are staying. And as the census data confirms, others are coming here for all the reasons that make a city livable.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.