Cass County's 'Saturn effect' helps region surpass North Dakota in population growth

Propelled by Cass County's gain of 3,441 from 2021 to 2022, the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area population climbs to an estimated at 258,663.

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FARGO — Cass County continued to be North Dakota’s population growth engine as it added 3,441 residents between 2021 and 2022 — an increase more than double the state’s net gain of 1,327.

Most counties, including those for urban centers such as Grand Forks and Minot as well as Williston and Dickinson lost population, according to the Census Bureau’s estimates for the year ending July 1, 2022.

Following Cass County in population growth were a gain of 313 for Burleigh County, which includes Bismarck, and an increase of 150 for adjacent Morton County, which includes Mandan.

Ward County, which encompasses Minot, had the biggest decrease, with a loss of 567, according to the estimates.

The widespread population losses for counties reflected the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the Oil Patch counties especially hard as slumping prices caused production to plunge, said Kevin Iverson, North Dakota’s census manager.


“It’s certainly kind of a leftover from COVID,” he said. “The western counties really took a hit during this time frame.”

Since 2022, which is only partially reflected in the population estimates, the state’s economy has rebounded and more recent population trends likely will mirror that upswing, Iverson said.


North Dakota’s almost 18% increase in sales tax receipts in 2022 reflects the turnaround, he said.

“I think that’s a better indication of where we are now with this state,” Iverson said. “You can’t walk down the street without tripping over a help wanted sign.”

Tax Commissioner Brian Kroshus called the latest sales tax report, released in late March, an illustration of the “strong, post-pandemic business recovery across the state and a return to normalized conditions.”

Besides Ward County, which is heavily influenced by petroleum activity, the Oil Patch counties were among those with the largest population drops.

Williams County, which includes Williston, lost 378 residents, Mountrail, which includes Stanley lost 303 and Stark, which includes Dickinson decreased by 256. Bucking that trend were McKenzie County, which includes Watford City, and Billings County, which includes Medora, each with a gain of 57.

Because of volatile oil prices, western North Dakota is especially prone to economic “boom and bust” cycles that drive population trends up and down, Iverson said.


On the other hand, Cass County, where the estimated population increased 1.82%, has a much more stable economy, he said.

Cass has a “very well-rounded or diversified economy,” Iverson said. “If one thing isn’t humming along, something else is.”

Across the Red River from Cass, Clay County added 264 residents, increasing population to 65,929. The Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area, comprising Cass and Clay counties, now has an estimated population of 258,663.

Cass County’s growth has become a population magnet, drawing people from nearby counties, including Grand Forks County, where the population ebbed by 99. Barnes County, which includes Valley City, dipped by 54 and Stutsman County, which includes Jamestown, lost 104, according to the estimates.

“It’s kind of like a planet getting bigger and bigger,” Iverson said, referring to Cass County. “It’s kind of like the Saturn effect.”

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address:
Phone: 701-367-5294
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