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New Census numbers don’t tell us much

Posted 3/27/13 (Wed)

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

The United States Census Bureau recently released its annual Metropolitan/Micropolitan area and county population estimates. Of every state in the country, North Dakota had a number of areas ranked as some of the fastest growing areas in the nation.
“North Dakota’s workforce and economy have been accelerating for several years, and the official estimates are now reflecting that growth,” states Rod Backman, chairman of the North Dakota Census Committee. “The fact of the matter is that North Dakota is attracting new residents across the entire state for good jobs and a stable economy.”
In Backman’s report, the term metropolitan refers to those locations containing over 50,000 people, whereas a micropolitan area contains less than that amount.
Population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the Williston micropolitan area ranked first and the Dickinson micropolitan area ranked third among the nation’s fastest-growing areas.
According to Backman, McKenzie County was the fastest growing county in North Dakota from 2011 to 2012, up a total of 971 people, which is an increase of 13.8 percent from the bureau’s last estimate report. But, according to Backman, in 2012 McKenzie County’s population was estimated to be at only 7,987 residents.
“The report will show that there is not as much growth in the area as what county residents would have expected,” states Backman.
And area leaders tend to agree.
“The Census Bureau’s estimates always seem to be about 10 years old,” states Gene Veeder, director of the McKenzie County Job Development Authority. “I just think that they are not able to count for this area and what is going on appropriately by using traditional methods.”
Backman states that the estimate data has roughly a two-year lag, because it is taken from tax returns and because it only counts permanent residents. Temporary workers are not counted in the Census data.
“It is important to remember that these U.S. Census estimates refer to residents and not temporary workers or others who view their home residence in another state. This is especially important in western North Dakota where town sizes are rapidly increasing, and that growth does not seem to be captured in the Census figures,” states Backman.
Because of that fact, Veeder states that area leaders have simply stopped using the Census reports.
“We don’t think they are accurate for us, and they actually wind up hurting us more than helping,” states Veeder.
This is mainly because population data is what developers look at when determining whether or not they want to invest in an area.
“It really hurts us in rapidly expanding areas to not have up-to-date figures,” states Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford. “It will be interesting to see how the Census estimates change as permanent housing is constructed over the next few years. The problem is that community funding is often tied to the last official Census, so we will be held to the 1,744 population level from the 2010 Census for 10 years.”
One thing that Backman did confirm is that a survey of county officials in 2012 estimated the state had 24,000 crew camp beds, which is likely housing in excess of 30,000 workers.
Also according to Backman, the Census Bureau reported that North Dakota’s population has reached 699,628 residents, which is an all-time high for the state.