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Available land signs are shown in Williston, North Dakota on February 10, 2014. REUTERS/Annie Flanagan

Dalrymple: Oil slide won’t reverse state’s population gains

BISMARCK, N.D. — The ebb in oil drilling activity and low crude prices are unlikely to reverse record population gains in North Dakota over the past decade as young families keep moving to the state to fill plentiful jobs in areas beyond the energy industry, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and the state’s demographer say.

North Dakota’s growth in oil production, but also progress in developing other industries, has helped spur “a remarkable” boom in children, Dalrymple told The Associated Press on Tuesday, saying communities well outside the state’s oil patch are growing.

“We still have 15,000 to 20,000 open jobs in the state and we are attracting young adults, who are either bring young children with them or having them,” Dalrymple said. “That is directly related to job opportunities. Our state has diversified and is not overly dependent on the energy sector.”

New Census Bureau figures show the number of children in North Dakota grew by more than 18,000 from 2010 to 2014, an amount roughly equal to the population of Jamestown, the state’s ninth-largest city. North Dakota’s overall population increased 9.9 percent during that time, while the number of children age 17 and younger grew by 12.4 percent, the highest increase in the nation, data show.

A little more than a decade ago, North Dakota was the only state to lose population. But its strong economy led by oil development in the western part of the state has attracted thousands of new residents in the past few years, reversing a decades-long decline since North Dakota’s population peaked at just under 681,000 in 1930. But it surpassed that that in 2011 and is now estimated at 740,000.

Related: U.S. oil refiners look abroad for crude supplies as North Dakota boom fades

“It was pretty bleak, said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota census office and the state demographer. “There is a really good prospect of finding a job now.”

Young adults have been moving to North Dakota — or staying — because of its economy, Iverson said, and census data show the state’s median age has dropped from 37 to 35 since 2010. North Dakota now has the fourth-lowest median age in the nation behind Utah, Alaska and Texas, he said.

At the state capital, Bismarck — more than 100 miles from the nearest oil well — the increase in the number of children spurred voters in 2012 to overwhelmingly approve an $86.5 million bond issue to build a new high school and two elementary schools.

Legacy High, Bismarck’s third high school, opened this year with more than 800 students. It has the capacity for twice that and principal Tom Schmidt believes the space will be needed in just a few years.

“We’re seeing a real increase in elementary and middle school,” Schmidt said. “That’s where the bubble is and we know that’s coming.”

Iverson said a decade ago, “we were consistently getting older in North Dakota,” but that trend has reversed. “Oil is what drove this, no doubt,” he said.

North Dakota has jumped from the nation’s ninth-largest oil producer in 2006 to No. 2 now, behind Texas. There were 66 drill rigs operating in North Dakota on Tuesday, down from 192 a year ago. While drilling is down, North Dakota has maintained near-record production of about 1.1 million barrels daily.

“There is still a good level of activity,” Dalrymple said, adding, “You are not going to see people leave.”

This article was written by James Macpherson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

7 comments

  1. I wonder if Canadians could come over and get work as easily as the Mexicans?

  2. And last I read, 4000 less jobs in the bakken from a year ago. And oil companies are still doing layoffs. Williston and other city’s look like truck bone yards. So this is not adding up