Population 2011: The More Things Change

While the bungled release of the historical 1940 Census records may have overshadowed this, the US Census Bureau this week also released population estimates for 2011.

Among the 50 fastest-growing metro areas over the last decade, only 24 of them were also among the 50 fastest growing since the 2010 Census. This is according to the first set of U.S. Census Bureau metropolitan statistical area, micropolitan statistical area and county population estimates to be published since the official 2010 Census population counts were released a year ago.

“Our nation is constantly changing, and these estimates provide us with our first measure of how much substate areas have grown or declined in total population since Census Day, April 1, 2010,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said. “We’re already seeing different patterns of population growth than we saw in the last decade.”

According to the new July 1, 2011, population estimates released today, the relative growth of many of the nation’s 366 metro areas in the 15-month period from April 2010 to July 2011 differed markedly from that observed between 2000 and 2010. One such example was Palm Coast, Fla., which was the fastest-growing metro area between 2000 and 2010, but fell to 55th place between 2010 and 2011. Similarly, Las Vegas, the third fastest-growing metro area between 2000 and 2010, fell to 151st place. Some metro areas showed less change: St. George, Utah, the second fastest-growing metro area between 2000 and 2010, dropped only to 11th place.

On the map above, blue is more, red is less.  (I won’t ascribe this color palette to Obama appointees, but it seems a diss to the folks at #RedState.)  In terms of absolute numbers, it doesn’t look like so much change.  It’s the percentages that accentuate the patterns.

See that big green festering along the Canadian borderline?  That’s the Western North Dakota Oil Patch.  Many news outlets have taken notice recently of the big changes going on in the Bakken oil fields.  The fact that good old Williston, ND, is now the fastest-growing small city in the United States caught the Wall Street Journal‘s attention Friday.

From April 2010 to July 2011, the population in and around Williston grew far faster than in any other micropolitan area—population centers with at least one urban cluster of between 10,000 and 50,000 people—swelling by 8.8% to 24,374 residents, according to census estimates.

Dickinson, N.D., and Minot, N.D., also placed in the top eight fastest-growing micropolitan areas. The fastest-growing major metropolitan area was around Kennewick in southern Washington state, where the population grew 4.3% to 264,000.

The census figures underline the feverish pace of the North Dakota oil boom, which has attracted hundreds of oil rigs to the state’s northwestern corner and thousands of workers to man them. Since new drilling technologies gave oil companies access to up to 4.3 billion barrels of crude in the Bakken Shale, which stretches across North Dakota, Montana and Canada, the influx of cash and oil has turned the once sleepy area into one of the most bustling regional economies in the country.

North Dakota passed California in December as the nation’s third-biggest oil-producing state, after Texas and Alaska. Of the 15 counties in the country with the lowest unemployment rates, 11 are in North Dakota. Just 0.8% of residents in Williston’s Williams County don’t have a job, while the national unemployment rate has hovered above 8%.

Why did I ever leave North Dakota?  The pursuit of trout, of course, but after so many hard times it is wonderful to see Opportunity visit the Flickertail state.  If you’re an urban planner, the City of Dickinson has a City Planner job open, and the City of Williston has a Principal Planner position open too.  Housing is mighty tight, I hear, so your first assignment may be to plan your own place to live.

Here in Minnesota, population change has been more modest.  Scott County in the Twin Cities metro area grew by 1.6% (July 2010-July 2011), a full percent over the State 0.6% average.  Hennepin County (Minneapolis) counted 14,364 additional residents for the largest person gain.  Beltrami County (Bemidji) grew 1.5% (686) to top the micropolitan areas.  Swift County, Renville County,   and Yellow Medicine County, all in the upper Minnesota River Valley, all lost about 1.3% of their population last year.  Cass County (Walker/Leech Lake Reservation) lost the most, 241, of any county in Minnesota.  The recreation economy on Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes has been hit hard by the downturn, but it’s interesting to see the most growth last year (Bemidji) and least (Walker) right next to each other.

These are, of course, short term trends.  Use them at your own risk.


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