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Strength in numbers: Williston, Dickinson rank among fastest-growing 'micro areas'

WILLISTON -- Williston ranks as the fastest-growing micropolitan area in the country for the second year, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday.

Census population estimates show that the Williston area gained 2,281 residents between July 1, 2011, and July 1, 2012, a 9.3 percent increase.

Dickinson ranks third on the list of fastest-growing micro areas with a population increase of 1,624 people during the same period, a 6.5 percent increase, according to Census estimates.

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

The figures came as no surprise to officials leading the growing cities in the heart of North Dakota's Oil Patch.

"We certainly feel like we are, but it's nice to see the numbers actually verify it," said Tom Rolfstad, economic development director for Williston.

The estimates put the population of the Williston micro area -- which is all of Williams County -- at 26,697 people in July 2012. The Census numbers do not count temporary workers.

A recent North Dakota State University study estimated that the Williston area's service population is more than 38,000 people, which included about 10,000 people who live in temporary workforce housing.

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser said the fast-paced growth doesn't come without pain.

"You've got to have infrastructure in place to accommodate those thousands of people," Koeser said.

The Census Bureau estimates the Dickinson area -- which is Stark and Billings counties -- had 26,771 residents in July 2012.

Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said he believes the city's population is about 25,000. Last year, Dickinson ranked fourth on the Census list of fastest-growing micro areas. Johnson anticipates that the city's growth may be more modest in the future.

"I would expect that Dickinson will continue to grow, but I think it will be a much more measured pace," Johnson said. "At least I'm hoping that is the case."

Minot ranked 25th among the fastest growing micro areas, down from last year's No. 8 ranking. The area's population was estimated at 73,146 people in 2012, a 1.2 percent increase over 2011.

The loss of housing units due to the flood may have kept Minot out of the top 10, said Rod Backman, chairman of the North Dakota Census Committee.

"It's hard to measure what the impact of the flood was," Backman said.

The population data is a breakdown from the Census Bureau's state and national population estimates released in December, which reported that North Dakota's population has reached 699,628 residents, an all-time high. Figures for individual cities will be released later this year.

The figure does not include temporary workers in North Dakota's oil country, which is estimated to be in excess of 30,000 people, Backman said.

Oil and gas development played a role in many of the areas that experienced population growth, the Census Bureau said. Midland, Texas, was the fastest-growing metro area.

"It kind of tells you that the oil business is probably the hottest thing going in this country right now," Rolfstad said.

The Fargo metro area, which includes Cass and Clay counties, had a population estimate of 216,312, a 1.8 percent increase over 2011.

The Grand Forks metro area, which includes Grand Forks and Polk counties, had 98,888, a 0.8 percent increase.

The Jamestown area, which is Stutsman County, had 20,934, a decline of 27 residents.

The Bismarck area, which is Burleigh and Morton counties, had 120,060, a 2.4 percent increase.

The 10 Fastest Growing Micro Areas

1. Williston 9.3 percent

2. Junction City, Kan. 7.4 percent

3. Dickinson 6.5 percent

4. Andrews, Texas 4.7 percent

5. Vernal, Utah 4.1 percent

6. Heber, Utah 3.8 percent

7. Elk City, Okla. 3.5 percent

8. Elko, Nev. 3.5 percent

9. Pullman, Wash. 3.4 percent

10. Ft. Polk South, La. 3.2 percent