- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - The oil-rich city of Williston continues to be the fastest-growing micropolitan area in the United States, according to Census Bureau estimates.

It is the third year in a row the northwestern North Dakota town has held the distinction. Micropolitan refers to an area with a population of more than 10,000 but fewer than 50,000.

Williston’s population grew from 26,744 to 29,595 between July 2012 and July 2013, an increase of 10.7 percent, according to the estimates that were released Wednesday.

Several other communities in the state also ranked prominently in the latest estimates.

Dickinson, on the southern edge of western North Dakota’s oil patch, was the second fastest-growing micropolitan area in the nation, while Fargo and Bismarck were the fourth and fifth fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple credited the state’s continuing population boom to economic development and job creation.

“Our investments in economic development and job creation are paying off in big ways, creating career opportunities for North Dakotans and attracting new workers to the state,” he said in a statement.

The oil industry has transformed Williston, which had a population of just 12,512 in the 2000 census.

Mayor Ward Koeser says city officials are not surprised: “It’s another sign of the excitement going on here.”

Koeser estimates the total population of Williston to be around 50,000, a figure that includes tens of thousands of workers who live in the area on a temporary basis and aren’t counted by census statistics.

North Dakota’s rapid growth goes hand in hand with its lowest unemployment rate in the nation and the country’s second highest per capita income. But it has also tested the infrastructure of communities in the oil patch.

In Williston, housing is scarce and expensive, with one-bedroom apartments frequently fetching monthly rents upward of $2,000. Other problems include traffic and an uptick in crime and automobile accidents.

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