- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - About 18,000 people migrated last year to North Dakota, boosting the state’s population to an all-time high, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Thursday.

Just a decade ago, North Dakota held the dubious distinction of being the only state to lose population. But its strong economy, led by the booming oil patch in the western part of the state, has attracted thousands of new residents in the past few years, reversing a decades-long trend of outmigration, where more people were going than coming, said Kevin Iverson, manager of the Census Office at the state Commerce Department.

“Obviously, the reason people are migrating here is for economic opportunity,” he said. “The economy in the rest of the country isn’t very good, and if the rest of the country wasn’t helping us out, we wouldn’t be where we are at.”

North Dakota has gone from the nation’s ninth-biggest oil producer in 2006 to the second, behind only Texas. The state has thousands more jobs than takers and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at less than 3 percent, Job Service North Dakota data show.

“After years of out-migration and population decline, it’s great to see that our economic growth continues to keep North Dakotans home and that we are attracting new residents throughout the state,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple said in a statement.

In 2003, a decade-low 632,809 people lived in North Dakota, the only state to record a loss of population for the year. Census data show North Dakota’s population reached an estimated all-time high of 723,393 residents last year. The state’s population had peaked at 680,845 in 1930 and had not been surpassed until 2011.

North Dakota had gains of 12,200 people in 2012 and 6,900 in 2011, data show. The state had 10,028 births and 5,754 deaths last year.

North Dakota’s loss of young people between the ages of 25 and 39 was the highest outmigration rate of that age group in the United States from 1995 to 2000. The state’s population is now getting younger. Census data show that the median age of North Dakota residents increased between 2000 and 2008, to 37.3 years of age. Since 2008, the median age of North Dakota residents has declined to 36.1 years of age, data show.

Iverson said people have moved from all states to North Dakota.

“Oil is the engine,” he said. “It’s just opportunity. People are realizing this is where the future is at.”