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North Dakota tops in rate of population gain in U.S.

FARGO--Justin Walden had a checklist involving quality of life amenities and city attributes that he weighed when considering a move to advance his college teaching career. Walden, a native of upstate New York, wanted to live in a location with r...

FARGO-Justin Walden had a checklist involving quality of life amenities and city attributes that he weighed when considering a move to advance his college teaching career.

Walden, a native of upstate New York, wanted to live in a location with real winters. He wanted a city that would make a newcomer feel welcome. He wanted a smaller metro area that was stable and on the grow. And, of course, he needed a good fit for his academic career.

Fargo checked all the boxes, and North Dakota State University offered a position teaching communication that he couldn't pass up, so Walden uprooted from New York and moved here last summer.

"The community from the get-go was a major attraction," Walden said, referring to Fargo. "Fargo seemed to hit every single thing I was looking for in a community."

He had lots of company-North Dakota's population grew by 16,887 to reach an estimated population of 756,927 as of July 1, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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North Dakota grew at a rate of 2.3 percent for the year, the highest percentage gain in the nation, a distinction the state has held for the past four years. Since 2004, the year the state began to reverse a longstanding out-migration trend, North Dakota has gained 110,000.

As it is growing, North Dakota also is becoming younger, with a median age of 34.9 years, two years younger than a decade ago and the nation's fourth youngest.

Many of those moving to North Dakota have been young adults in their child-rearing years. As a result, the state's births have risen steadily to last year's 11,352, up from 8,380 a decade ago.

Much of the population increase has come from attracting out-of-state residents, although the in-migration rush last year markedly began to slow. Still, Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota Census Office, expects the state's economy will continue to lure people, although probably at a more gradual rate.

"It just keeps going," he said. "We've built enough momentum."

The steep and prolonged drop in oil prices has slowed activity in North Dakota's Oil Patch, yet the state continued to grow, he said. Iverson believes it's likely that many of the oilfield workers who lost their jobs simply returned to their home states, without ever having become North Dakota residents, so population figures were not greatly influenced by the slowdown.

"We're still pretty job rich even with the slowdown in western North Dakota," Iverson said.

Despite all the attention focused on the Oil Patch, Fargo and Cass County continue to see the largest population increases, he said.

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"As a region, the Fargo region has grown faster than any region in the state," Iverson said.

Fargo's growth and economic vitality were two of the factors that attracted Walden. "There was an economic viability aspect that really factored into my decision," he said.

When Walden, 36, visited the city while considering the move he had a chance to meet residents.

"Everybody I met just seemed really warm and welcoming," he said. "The sense of community was really important to me."

His wife, who is finishing her doctorate, will join him as early as this summer. The couple bought a home in north Fargo.

For Allen Ralston, the lure was Fargo's thriving entrepreneurial culture. As examples, he cited Emerging Prairie and 1 Million Cups. "That's not happening in a lot of other places," he said.

A retired educator, Ralston moved here last year from Bemidji, Minn. But moving to Fargo was a bit like coming home for the native of Mayville, N.D.

"I knew an awful lot of people and my friends are here," he said.

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Ralston is inventing a second career for himself, involving online mentorship of educators and a transformational coaching service he plans to launch in January-activities he thought would be aided by being around like-minded people.

"Quite frankly, I don't believe in retirement," said Ralston, 64. "I'm a long way from putting my feet up."

Bre Sinner moved to Fargo from Minneapolis less than a year ago for two reasons. One was to be closer to her boyfriend, who is attending medical school at the University of North Dakota. The other was to accept a job as a residence hall director at NDSU.

Sinner, 26, who has family connections in Fargo and nearby Casselton, likes Fargo's smaller scale yet rich amenities. She frequently goes downtown to sample restaurants.

"There's a lot of things to do," she said. "It's fun to see how Fargo's growing."

As for Minneapolis: "I don't miss the traffic," said Sinner, who grew up in Brainerd, Minn. "That's for sure."

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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