As part of the five year strategic development plan for Region 4, we have conducted in-depth data analysis of key trends – both demographic and economics – in the region. We have uncovered a few new topics in the process and are working to release this information in a summary and sharable format.
These trends, you’ll see, are mixed bag of urban and rural trends within our four counties. The mixed bag is largely a contrast of rural and urban dynamics in North Dakota today. Together, our small towns have a total population of approximately 35,000 people – the size of West Fargo. This population is disbursed amongst 41 towns with Grafton being the largest at 4,200 and 10 communities ranging from 512 to 1,430 people. The rest are smaller. The city of Grand Forks is approximately 60,000 people.
According to studies by the Aspen Institute and Headwaters Economics, North Dakota is ranked last in the country for rural development capacity. Lack of adequate professional staff, leadership development and resources to champion rural issues and create positive momentum. Comparing the systems that support growth in our larger cities to our rural communities, disparities are significant.
For example, large communities have convention and visitors bureaus, community development departments, chambers of commerce leading community/business policy/funding, economic development organizations, housing authorities active in housing development, downtown associations, as well as significant private sector and nonprofit organizations. Rural areas lack the regional taxing authorities and critical mass to support development efforts and systems at a comparative level. A rural capacity map – Headwaters Economics Rural Development Hubs: Strengthening America’s Rural Innovation Infrastructure – The Aspen Institute
Statewide, population growth the past decade was largely focused in the state’s largest communities with just three counties accounting for 70% of population growth – Cass (Fargo), Burleigh (Bismarck) and Williams (Williston). Our counties have continued an 80-year trend of overall population loss – with the rate of loss beginning to slow.
Wages appear to be a big driver of where people live in ND. Rural wages are generally considerably less than wages in our larger communities in ND. People of prime workforce ages are migrating to the larger communities. Gender wage equity is also a large issue – with women earning significantly less than men (25 to 29% less). Healthcare and education sectors have the most significant differences in rural vs. urban areas (26 to 58% less in rural counties than Grand Forks County).
Lack of equity in wages also exacerbates the housing development conundrum in rural ND. New housing development is stagnant in rural areas. Only 6% of the housing in our rural communities has been built in the past 20 years compared to 25% in Grand Forks. Programs such as the ND Housing Incentive Fund has been used to build 3,040 housing units in the oil patch and in the state’s larger cities ($100 million in HIF funds) while only 3% (103 units) of the total units have been in small towns outside the oil patch ($6.4 million in HIF funds).
Positive trends include … most all of our businesses have been planning for growth! More than 1,500 new people are needed to fill new jobs / retirement vacancies in our rural communities. We are re-launching a nonprofit housing development corporation to help spark new housing development regionwide.
Our community spirit is showing broad signs on a rally throughout the entire region. One small town recently proclaimed … out loud … “We are not going to die.” The Nelson County Women’s Network now boasts 450+ members in this county of just 3,000 people. Frost Fire Park has launched a regional master development plan. Grafton’s Beautification Committee has bold visions. Community gardens are popping up. Murals are enlivening outdoor walls all over. Walhalla proudly celebrated its 175th birthday this past week.
We’ve been asking ourselves … what do we want our region to look like in five years?
If you have some thoughts … send them over to Dawn Mandt, Executive Director, email@example.com.