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Williston ranked as fastest-growing micro area

WILLISTON -- Williston is the fastest-growing micro area in the country, and Dickinson and Minot also made the top 10, according to estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

The population of the Williston micro area -- which is Williams County -- grew 8.8 percent from April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2011, Census estimates show.

Williams County also ranked third among the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

"It reminds us once again that the growth here is truly phenomenal," said Williston Mayor Ward Koeser. "And we're going to have to work hard to keep up with it."

A micro area is defined as an area containing at least one urban cluster of 10,000 people but less than 50,000.

The micro area that includes Dickinson ranks fourth in the nation in percentage growth with a 4 percent increase in population.

The Minot area ranked eighth in the nation with a 3.6 percent increase.

Koeser said it's exciting to see three North Dakota areas in the top 10.

"It's telling the rest of the world that things are truly happening in western North Dakota," Koeser said.

Rod Backman, chairman of the North Dakota Census Committee, said even though the figures are impressive, the estimates do not accurately reflect what's happening in the rapidly growing communities.

"Cities in the oil boom area are going to look at it and say this is way too low," Backman said.

The Census estimates show 24,374 permanent residents living in Williams County.

Koeser said he estimates that the city of Williston alone has 20,000 permanent residents, and the rest of the county has more than 4,000 or 5,000 residents.

The Census does not count people who live in crew camps or other temporary housing.

"It's not how many noses you have, it's how you count the noses," said Tom Rolfstad, executive director for Williston Economic Development.

Williams County has about 7,000 people living in temporary camps and another 2,000 or so living in RVs or campers that the Census would not count, Rolfstad estimates.

The Census estimates show the population of the Dickinson micro area as 25,993 and the Minot micro area as 72,067.

Bismarck ranked 41st among the 50 fastest-growing metro areas with a population increase of 1.9 percent for a total of 110,879.

The Fargo metro area grew by 1.6 percent to 212,171. The Grand Forks metro area declined by 0.4 percent to 98,054. The Jamestown micro area declined 0.2 percent to 21,062.

Estimates with information specific to cities are expected in June, Backman said.

Dalrymple is a reporter stationed in the Oil Patch for Forum Communications Co.