A decade ago, Minnesota was the growth king of the Upper Midwest, with several of its counties among the 100 fastest-growing in the country.
That throne now belongs to North Dakota, where an oil boom has turned the state into a population juggernaut, with two counties ranked among the nation’s top five fastest-growing in 2012, according to census data released Thursday.
Minnesota counties meanwhile, are absent from the top 100. There are bright spots: Hennepin and Ramsey counties have added tens of thousands of residents since the 2010 census. But the recession, the housing bust and higher gas prices continue to take a toll on the exurban counties on the fringes of the seven-county metro area that propelled the state’s growth a decade ago.
Chisago County, once a national growth leader, is now experiencing some of the bigger losses in the state, with a net drop of nearly 500 people over the past two years.
McLeod County, a county of about 36,000 just outside the western edge of the metro, has seen an exodus of some 800 people since 2010 as one of the region’s largest employers, Hutchinson Technology, shed jobs.
The outflow has been partly offset by births and other factors, bringing the net loss down to about 600. But if that proves accurate — between-census estimates are not always 100 percent reliable — it still represents a startling figure for a small rural county. Said Said Doug Hanneman, editor of the Hutchinson Leader: “We had no idea this was happening.”
Hutchinson Technology declined to comment on its job losses. Donna Luhring, director of business and finance for the Hutchinson School District, has felt the impact. With fewer students, state funding is down $78,000 since last year, Luhring said, and a similar-to-bigger hit is expected again in the near future as more students leave.
State figures show unemployment in the county has eased downward from 8.9 percent in 2010 to 6.9 percent last year. Jean Ward, director of the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said foreclosures have declined from 77 in 2009 to 45 in 2012, but home prices are still dropping.
Home on the plains
Across the Great Plains from the Canadian border to Texas, an energy boom has propelled numerous counties and metro areas to the upper reaches of the national growth rankings. Bismarck, N.D., is among the 20 fastest-growing metro areas, and the pace of growth in Fargo-Moorhead is faster than that of the Twin Cities area. If even tiny counties are included, North Dakota has nearly half the nation’s 15 fastest-growing counties.
Michael Langley, CEO of Greater MSP, the metro area’s regional economic development partnership, cautioned about reading too much into North Dakota’s recent gains.
“North Dakota’s booming oil economy is bringing significant population increases,” Langley said. “That’s all well and good if it continues for the foreseeable future and beyond. But if it winds up being boom and bust, that’s something we need to understand, and celebrate slow and steady. It’s more predictable and stable.”
The Twin Cities region last year added more than 29,000 jobs, he said, and is in a much better place than cities such as Las Vegas, which soared higher during the boom years and are not turning out to be as resilient as the economy revives.
Scott County remains Minnesota’s fastest-growing county, but these days much of its growth stems from births to young families who moved in years ago, not from new arrivals.
In terms of sheer numbers, Hennepin and Ramsey County are the state’s leaders, with combined population growth of nearly 44,000 since the 2010 Census, out of a metro-area total of about 73,000.