MINOT, N.D.-State Census Director Kevin Iverson said he expects northwest North Dakota's period of out-migration has run its course, based on demographic and economic indicators.
The census estimates from the year that ended last July 1 that were released Wednesday, March 21, reflect a continued effect from the slowing of oil activity in the Bakken, at least in some areas. The population of Williams County declined nearly 2.5 percent, although Mountrail and McKenzie counties each saw a bit of an increase. The three counties remain significantly more populated than in 2010, however. Williams is up nearly 11,000 residents to 33,349 and McKenzie's size has doubled to 12,724.
In the far northern part of the Bakken, Minot's micropolitan area shrunk by 1.7 percent in the year that ended July 1.
The counties of Ward, Renville and McHenry, which make up Minot's micropolitan area, lost an estimated 1,355 residents, with the bulk of that coming from Ward County. The figures show an estimated 77,309 residents in the three counties.
Ward County's population estimate fell by 1.7 percent to 68,946. That reflected net migration of minus 1,899, which was offset somewhat by births exceeding deaths. The county's population was shown to peak at 71,430 in July 2015 in the estimates. However, the county remains 7,271 residents ahead of the 2010 census numbers. Minot's micropolitan area has seen 7,769 additional residents, or 11 percent growth, since 2010.
Migration habits indicate that moving is easier for young males compared to females or couples and families. Iverson said he suspects young males accounted for a good share of northwestern North Dakota's losses.
Population change also tends to follow the economy, with about a six-month lag, Iverson said. A Bureau of Economic Analysis report on state Gross Domestic Product reported a negative quarter for North Dakota in early 2017, followed by a couple of stronger quarters.
"I would expect we are going to see little change to some growth when we look at this next year," Iverson said.
He added the latest census estimates show the shockwave from the Bakken into eastern North Dakota is still having some effect. Even small counties such as Benson, Eddy, Kidder, Sheridan and Towner are among those in the population increase column, according to estimates.
Counties that are home to the state's largest cities, Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks, all had increases.
Fargo and Cass County were up the most with 3,162 new residents for the year to reach 177,787 people. Grand Forks County was up 199 residents to 70,795 and Burleigh County, home to Bismarck, was up 601 residents to 95,030.