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Boom breaks ND population record

FARGO -- North Dakota's population hit an all-time high this year, exceeding a mark set in 1930.

As of July 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated 683,932 people call North Dakota home.

Not only is the estimate released Wednesday by the Census Bureau a record -- surpassing 1930's population of 680,845 -- it also shows substantial growth in just the past year, said Richard Rathge, director of the state data center.

From April 2010 to July 2011, the state gained 11,341 residents, a 1.7 percent increase. That ties North Dakota with Colorado as the fifth fastest-growing state over that time period.

"This has never happened," said Rathge, who has crunched state population numbers for close to 30 years. "We've never been in the top 10."

North Dakota is gaining people during a period of slumping national growth. U.S. rates showed population growth has slowed to numbers unseen since the mid-1940s. The U.S. grew by 0.9 percent over the same 15-month period, adding a total of 2.8 million people.

Texas topped population growth with 2.1 percent, followed by Utah (1.9 percent), Alaska (1.8 percent), Colorado (1.7 percent) and North Dakota (1.7 percent), according to census data.

North Dakota's increase is due in part to the most robust birth rates since the 1980s and an influx of workers taking advantage of the oil boom out west.

North Dakota's population had been falling for decades, Rathge said. The 1990s brought a migration loss of 29,000 people, a trend that dates all the way back to the 1950s, when 105,000 left the state, Rathge said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple gave the state's strong economy credit for reversing the longtime downward trend.

"After years of population decline, it's welcomed news to see that our economic growth over the last decade continues to keep North Dakotans home and that we are attracting new residents throughout the state who come for good jobs, a stable economy and a quality of life that is second to none," Dalrymple said in a statement.

Members of the North Dakota Census Committee said Wednesday's estimates may be lower than the state's actual population growth.

A number of workers in western North Dakota still claim other states as their residences, so the number of people in the state is actually more than the numbers show, Rathge said.

"This is really a phenomenal period for North Dakota in terms of population," Rathge said.

Shaffer is the business editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.