Census figures show increases in preschoolers in wetsern N.D.FARGO — Census figures released late Wednesday show that so-called man camps aren’t the only new developments in North Dakota’s recent oil boom. Some new residents apparently brought their families. Eight counties in or near the oil patch in western North Dakota saw the number of preschoolers increase by 20 percent or more in the last decade, with estimates showing most of that growth in the last few years.
By: By Dave Kolpack, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Census figures released late Wednesday show that so-called man camps aren’t the only new developments in North Dakota’s recent oil boom. Some new residents apparently brought their families.
Eight counties in or near the oil patch in western North Dakota saw the number of preschoolers increase by 20 percent or more in the last decade, with estimates showing most of that growth in the last few years.
While it’s not known how long those families will stay, the state’s demographer calls the youth movement surprising and fascinating.
“This is something we’ve wished for, for I don’t know how many decades,” said Richard Rathge, director of the state Data Center in Fargo. “It’s a very different North Dakota.”
Children under 5 years old in Williams County — located in the heart of oil country — jumped from 1,135 in 2000 to 1,546 in 2010. The largest city in the county, Williston, had 764 children under 5 in 2000; there are now 1,103. Other 20 percent-plus jumps in western counties came in Billings, Bottineau, Burke, Burleigh, Divide and McKenzie and counties.
Rathge said the new details may help civic leaders map out strategies for the future, especially with schools changing the focus from consolidation to expansion. Some could be hesitant to invest in new buildings partly because of the oil bust of the early 1980s, he said.
“Part of our fiscally conservative culture in North Dakota is, keep it for a rainy day,” Rathge said. “I would argue it’s pouring in the west.”
School districts are making decisions about renovations to buildings “on an hourly basis,” state School Superintendent Wayne Sanstead said. Official enrollment figures won’t be available until November, but anecdotal evidence from the start of school is startling, he said.
For example, Sanstead said, Stanley officials are expecting 150 new students, when state projections showed about 30.
“And students are coming from all over the country. I think that’s the second element,” Sanstead said. “It’s not just Texas and Oklahoma anymore, the two major oil states. We’re getting people from Florida and all up and down the East Coast.”
Viola LaFontaine, superintendent of Williston schools, did not return a phone message to The Associated Press, but said during a legislative hearing earlier this year that schools there have turned bathrooms, gyms and libraries into classroom.
Sanstead said many new residents in the oil patch are supply and service workers, which he believes could explain the increase in families.
“It’s business people, not just the oil rig hands. Management types,” he said.
Statewide, the number of preschoolers went up from 39,400 in 2000 to 44,595 in 2010.
The state’s most populous county, Cass, located on the Minnesota border, was the only other county to top the 20 percent increase mark for children under 5.