- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Williston and Dickinson were the nation’s fastest-growing micropolitan areas in the country between 2013 and 2014, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau that underscores the rapid expansion of populations in the western North Dakota oil patch.

A micropolitan area has between 10,000 and 50,000 people.

Williams County - home to Williston - remained the nation’s fastest-growing county with a population of more than 10,000 people, with growth of nearly 9 percent. It was followed by Stark County - home to Dickinson - with 7 percent growth.

People have flocked to the area in recent years in search of good-paying oil field jobs. McKenzie County, also in the oil patch, was the nation’s fastest-growing county of fewer than 10,000 people, with 18 percent growth. Many of the new arrivals are in Watford City, which has seen its population grow in just a few years from about 1,400 people to an estimated 12,000-15,000, depending on the time of year.

Even that number might not reflect actual growth because of the steady influx of people, many of whom don’t have permanent housing, said Gene Veeder, spokesman for McKenzie County Development.

“The No. 1 challenge we’ve had out here is to figure out who’s here, how we count them, and who is just passing through,” he said.

Officials and residents have sought state financial assistance to keep up with the growth. Watford City residents last year voted to approve a sales tax increase to fund a new hospital and a community events center, along with other projects. Officials are keeping up with upgrades to infrastructure such as water and sewer service, “but if we continue to grow at this rate, it could be a problem,” Veeder said. “There’s a lot of speculation happening in our planning.”

The recent downturn in oil prices does not yet seem to have affected activity in North Dakota’s oil patch, according to Veeder.

Elsewhere in the state, the capital, Bismarck, was the 22nd fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country, with a growth rate of 2.1 percent, and the fastest-growing metro area outside of the South or West, according to the report. A metro area has a population of at least 50,000 people. North Dakota’s largest city of Fargo, in the east, grew 2 percent.

“The growth continues widespread across most of state, with 32 of the state’s 53 counties gaining population,” said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota Census Office. “This new data indicates growth is a bit slower than we had seen in previous years, but continues the kind of change we have been experiencing for the past few years as a result of in-migration to the state.”

North Dakota’s population has grown by nearly 10 percent since the 2010 Census, more than any other state. North Dakota had experienced a net out-migration as recently as 2007.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake


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