Grand Forks grows slower than other cities
GRAND FORKS - When Barry Wilfahrt, president of the Chamber of Commerce, got wind of the latest U.S. Census figures for Grand Forks a month ago, he said it upset him.
GRAND FORKS - When Barry Wilfahrt, president of the Chamber of Commerce, got wind of the latest U.S. Census figures for Grand Forks a month ago, he said it upset him. The city's population had grown 7.1 percent over a decade, the slowest of any of the bigger cities in North Dakota, and, Wilfahrt said, he's a competitive man.
"It's a message to our community that we need to reevaluate what we're doing," he said.
Any way he or anyone could slice it, the area's growth lagged behind its peers.
The Grand Forks metropolitan statistical area, which includes Grand Forks and Polk counties, grew 1 percent. The nearest peer, Minot's three-county micropolitan statistical area, grew 3.2 percent.
Grand Forks and neighboring East Grand Forks, Minn., together grew 8.1 percent. The next lowest growth rate was Bismarck, Mandan and Lincoln at 10.9 percent.
Population is a big deal to local leaders because it's a key variable in economic growth.
"It strengthens your economy, your economic diversity, your cultural diversity," said Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown. "It's important for the sustainability of the community."
It's important enough that, one year, he set a goal of seeing the city's population grow to 58,000 by 2010. The Census counted 52,800.
Klaus Thiessen, head of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., sees population in terms of workforce. The bigger the available workforce, he said, the more likely a major employer would be willing to expand here.
The Air Force base
The biggest reason for the Grand Forks area's lag is the downsizing at Grand Forks Air Force Base, said state demographer Richard Rathge.
After the last base realignment and closure round, the base lost its flying tanker mission.
As the tankers departed for other bases, so did the airmen. The base gained the unmanned aircraft mission at the same time, but the manpower is still in the build-up phase.
Brown and Wilfahrt, like many area leaders, hope the new mission will mean more airmen and more workers in the unmanned aircraft industry.
The result of the downsizing can be seen in the population of the base, not including airmen and their families that live in the city proper, which fell 51 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 2,400.
Minot Air Force Base lost population, too, but not as much. Between 2000 and 2010, it fell 29.6 percent to 5,500.
Tu-Uyen Trans writes for the Grand Forks Herald