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On the Road in North Dakota

Thu May 22 2014
John H. Thompson
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Oil Well in North Dakota

Since my confirmation hearing last August, I have had several conversations about the rapid population growth in North Dakota with Senators Heitkamp and Hoeven. Recent Census Bureau statistics have repeatedly reinforced the trends we discussed—how the booming oil and gas industry was attracting people to the state.

I knew I not only needed to see the growth first-hand but meet with officials and people throughout North Dakota to see how to best measure it, both in our population estimates and as we prepare for the 2020 Census. The growth was truly like nothing I have ever seen, and I was equally as amazed by the warmth of the people I met along the way.

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I began my trip in Fargo to conduct market research. Fargo is an example of how the state is growing, in this case not from oil but from growth in other industries. In fact, the Fargo metro area was one of the fastest growing in the country with a rate of 3.1 percent from 2012 to 2013. Its population in 2013 was 223,490.

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Like Fargo, the Bismarck metro area is rapidly growing and also grew 3.1 percent from 2012 to 2013. I visited the capital city to meet with Governor Dalrymple as well as members of the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, and leaders of North Dakota tribes. Listening to how the growth is affecting them and their ideas for getting an accurate 2020 count provided great insight into understanding the issues we face, particularly in tribal areas.

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Following my meetings in the capital, I drove from Bismarck to Williston, going through Dickinson and Watford City. As we moved away from the outskirts of Bismarck, oil wells began to appear and the highway became dotted with tanker trucks. By the time we reached Williston, the growth was apparent everywhere as new apartment complexes, hotels and restaurants sprung up on every corner.

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Before returning home, I toured Williston and met with officials from several nearby towns. All expressed their interest in ensuring accurate counts of their communities as they see an influx of people working in the oil industry.

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I can’t thank the people of North Dakota enough for their hospitality during my trip. It was my first visit to North Dakota, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the state and learning about its rapidly growing cities and industries.

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For more information, please see the recent release of city and town population estimates.

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Note: To read more about Director Thompson’s trip to North Dakota, visit his story map.

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