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Published December 21, 2010, 11:41 AM

North Dakota's Population Grows 4.7 percent, Nearing Historic Level

North Dakota's population rose 4.7 percent during the last decade to almost the highest count in the state's history. The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that North Dakota had 672,591 residents on April 1, 2010.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Buoyed by western North Dakota's recent oil boom, the state's population rose 4.7 percent during the last decade, outpacing state officials' most optimistic expectations and falling just short of its peak from 80 years ago.

"It's fantastic," Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.

The U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday that North Dakota had 672,591 residents on April 1, an increase from the reported 2000 population of 642,200.

The agency reported population totals for each of the 50 states during a news conference in Washington, D.C. More detailed information will be disclosed later, including population counts for counties and cities.

Rod Backman, a former North Dakota budget director and chairman of a state census committee, and Richard Rathge, director of the North Dakota Data Center at North Dakota State University, said energy development in western North Dakota contributed to the growth.

"People go where the jobs are," Backman said.

North Dakota recorded its highest population in 1930, when the federal census counted 680,845 people living in the state. That total dropped almost 6 percent during the Depression and Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.

North Dakota's population fell 2.1 percent during the 1980s, when drought and slumping crop and oil prices devastated the state's economy. It crept up by 3,400 people by April 2000, an increase of less than 1 percent, the smallest in the nation during the 1990s.

A census estimate last year calculated that North Dakota had 646,844 people in 2009, a figure that many state officials had disputed as too low. The actual count showed the criticisms were valid, Backman said.

"I could already see it in the economic data five years ago, that things were just going in the right direction, but our census estimates never seemed to catch up to it," he said.

Job Service North Dakota analyst Michael Ziesch said the state's number of nonfarm jobs rose by 38,600 from 2000 until 2009.

North Dakota's oil production rose dramatically during the decade, particularly in the last five years, which officials have credited with bringing job seekers to the state.

Oil producers in the state were pumping an average of 89,149 barrels a day in January 2001. Last October, the figure was 342,247 barrels daily, which itself represented a 45 percent increase from January 2010.

U.S. Sen.-elect John Hoeven, who was North Dakota's governor for the last 10 years until he resigned Dec. 7, said he welcomed the numbers.

"When you have job growth like we've had, it takes population time to catch up with the job growth, and that's what we're seeing," Hoeven said. "We've come from a situation where we were losing population, and now we're showing good growth, and I think that's a huge positive."

Tuesday's data will be used to apportion each state's membership in the U.S. House. North Dakota will not be affected; the state has had only one U.S. House seat since the 1970s. Eight states will gain U.S. House seats from the reapportionment that will be done using the new census data, while 10 states will lose seats.