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Census figures support ongoing growth

West Fargo is now the fifth largest city in the state.

This distinction up from the number eight spot recorded ten years ago, according to new official federal census figures released last week.

Fargo took the top spot in North Dakota, followed by Bismarck, Grand Forks, and Minot in fourth.

West Fargo also earned the largest growth rate of the larger cities with its population

jumping 73 percent from 14,940 in 2000, to 25,830 people in 2010.

Fargo, Bismarck and Minot also enjoyed double-digit growth in the last decade, while North Dakota's rural population continued to fall.

Among the smaller communities, substantial gains were noted since the last count. Horace saw a remarkable increase of 165.6 percent, going from a population of 915 to 2,430 residents; Reiles Acres, from 254 to 513 for a 102 percent increase; Mapleton, from 606 to 762 for a 25.7 percent increase, and Harwood from 607 to 718, for an 18.3 percent increase.

West Fargo City Planner Steve Zimmer, who served as chairperson for the local Complete the Count Committee that worked diligently last year to get as many residents as possible involved in the census process, said the statistics revealed few surprises. "Basically the figures reinforced the city's own population count arrived at each year through building permits and the number of building units completed based on a percentage of people per household as well as home sales information," he said. "The numbers were actually pretty close considering it is a ten-year count. We were only off a few hundred people."

Zimmer said he also felt the 2010 census was a more accurate count for West Fargo than the last go-round, simply because more people knew that the census was taking place and took the initiative to respond and provide their information. He credits this to the excellent marketing strategy and campaign of individuals out-and-about in respective communities looking for 100 percent participation, providing the much needed guidance and informational materials. "There was a lot of press about the census," Zimmer noted. "It helped that we had the information readily available. Consequently, as far as trying to get the word out it went extremely well. It also helped that we had the materials available in multiple languages, so that we could reach out to the new Americans."

"On the whole, most people do know about the census every ten years," he continued, "but I think the Census Bureau and the city together with the individuals on our Complete the Count Committee, knew how to reach out to the-harder-to-get to population. They (the Census Bureau) did a really good job this time, having materials available to all the jurisdictions around the country, and that helped a lot as far as getting the word out to as many people as possible."

Overall, Zimmer said he was "amazed" by all that went into the census process. "Up until this last year, I had never been directly involved with it before. Looking at how much time and effort goes into the count and getting the info out and trying to get every single person in every single community to send in the census form and then tabulate that data, which has to be accurate, it's pretty amazing to just see that all come together. It was really time consuming, pretty eye opening and a lot of fun to be involved with, and actually see all the logistics that go into the census count. I would never have guessed it was that in-depth."

Zimmer said the local committee was also pleased that West Fargo ranked near the top with a high response rate, right along side Fargo and Moorhead. "We were all active in getting people in our communities to respond so we could ensure the funding for each individual because the more people counted, the more money we will receive. This is really important to a city with growing pains as far as infrastructure needs and trying to offset that, instead of relying on monies from the general fund."

The importance of being counted equates to $1,000 a year per person in federal and state dollars over the next ten years that will go toward social programs, infrastructure upgrades, schools, and other city projects.

Zimmer added that data from the official census is also crucial in arriving at where to locate future commercial and retail needs, i.e. factories, shopping centers, movie theaters, and offices, all sources for new employment; as well as serving as the basis for drawing up legislative districts and determining the number of elected officials in the House of Representatives.

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said he wasn't surprised by the numbers either, given the ongoing yearly tracking by the city planning staff. "However, it always good to see the 'official' numbers. It is good news for West Fargo because we are now eligible for more state and federal dollars for various programs."

As far as factors contributing to the growth, Mattern said the Diversion played a huge role. "We have been the 'city on the grow' for many years; however, the number of new residents really started to increase after the 1997 flood event in Fargo and Moorhead." He added that excellent city services are also a factor. "There are many pieces to a puzzle that help a city grow," mentioning specifically good sanitation, street, sewer and water, engineering, economic development, forestry, assessing, police and fire departments, and great park and school districts. "Keeping up with planning and infrastructure are also important," he stated. "I believe that our growth will continue into the future. It will be interesting to watch, along with the metropolitan area, and compare it with what will happen in the oil patch out in western North Dakota."

Commenting on the dramatic population increase experienced by Horace, City Council member Craig Hakanson said he had anticipated numbers to be right around the 2,000 mark, so again not startling news. He said the upsurge can be attributed to acreage to the north that was annexed into the city of Horace, as well as new, small developments on both the north and south sides of town.

As for Harwood, Mayor Bill Rohrich said their increase is the result of a housing development on the north end of town that has been ongoing for about seven years. "Right now everything has been sold there," he said, "and there is only one home that has not been built." There is also a development on the west side of the river that brought in a few relatively young families, which Rohrich described "as always a good thing. We definitely need the growth and it is definitely good news," adding that the funding received as a result will help with infrastructure needs which the city has managed to handle well in the past.

Anyone seeking more information about the 2010 Census can visit the website set up at