FARGO-Cass County once again served as North Dakota's people magnet, gaining 3,162 residents in the latest yearly population estimates.
The Census Bureau estimates, reflecting population changes from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017, show that Cass County posted a net migration gain of 1,633, comprised of 847 domestic migrants and 786 international migrants.
Natural population increase-births over deaths-accounted for a gain of another 1,529 residents in Cass County, to round out the estimated population gain for the year.
"It's substantially higher than anywhere else," surpassing all other North Dakota county population gains combined, said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota Census Office.
Burleigh County, which includes Bismarck, tallied the next-largest increase, with a population gain of 601, followed by Grand Forks County, which grew by 199 residents over the year.
Among the counties with major urban centers, Ward County, which includes Minot, experienced the biggest estimated population loss, a reduction of 1,207. The loss was typical of counties in or near North Dakota's Oil Patch, Iverson said.
"We showed out-migration for a lot of western counties," he said, a result of the continued economic and demographic fallout from the drop in oil prices dating back to 2015.
McKenzie County, which includes Watford City, was a noteworthy exception to the losses experienced in the Oil Patch, with a gain of 108 people. Perhaps McKenzie eked out a gain because it is located in the heart of the Oil Patch, where the most productive oil wells often are located, Iverson said.
By contrast, Williams County, home to Williston, saw a population decline of 846. Stark County, which includes Dickinson, experienced a loss of 647.
In eastern North Dakota outside the Red River Valley, Stutsman County, which includes Jamestown, gained 78 people.
Continuing a longstanding trend, a majority of rural North Dakota counties suffered out-migration, Iverson said.
Cass County's population, now estimated at 177,787, has grown 18.7 percent since estimates in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. Going back to 1990, Cass County has gained 74,913-or more than the population of Bismarck, estimated at 72,417 in 2016.
"As Fargo has grown, it's kind of like you're the magnetic pole of the area," Iverson said. "I think there's a pull."
Iverson suspects North Dakota, which saw its first estimated population loss in 15 years last year, when it dipped by 155, is unlikely to see further declines because the economy is showing renewed strength.
North Dakota's gross domestic product has increased for each of the past three quarters, according to figures by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
From the final quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of 2017, North Dakota's economy grew 1.7 percent. The second quarter of last year shot up by 8.5 percent and the third quarter, the most recent available, grew by 3.1 percent.
Demographic trends often mirror the underlying demographic trends, Iverson said.
"I would tend to believe we've kind of gone through this rough patch," he said.