Minnesota's changing population has a new bright spot: the metro area of Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead.
Census Bureau population estimates released Thursday show the area grew by about 3,750 people to just under 196,000 from 2007 to 2008. It's a 2 percent increase and the highest percentage gain among metro areas that include Minnesota.
That growth also shows up in the new county population estimates. For the past few years the counties with the fastest growth rates have been between St. Cloud and Rochester, including the Twin Cites metro area.
This year the top three fastest growth rates were in Scott, Wright and Carver counties, but in fourth place was Clay County, which includes Moorhead.
While it had the smallest growth in the group in real terms - 1,172 people - its 2.1 percent annual growth rate was among the largest in the state for the year.
In fifth and sixth place were Sherburne and Olmsted counties, which benefited from the growth in the St. Cloud and Rochester metro areas respectively.
Minnesota State Demographer Tom Gillaspy attributes the increase in the Fargo-Moorhead area to a booming economy driven by North Dakota oil and high prices for grains in late 2007 and early 2008 in the Red River Valley.
"The economy was clicking along pretty well, at least through 2008, in Clay County," he said.
He also gave some of the credit to regional economic development polices that ignore state lines, and cooperation between higher education and business.
"I think that part of it is the colleges and universities that are working with businesses," he said. "They are using each other's strengths."
It's a recent growth spurt. Since 2000 the Clay County population has grown about 9 percent; 19 other Minnesota counties have grown faster.
The latest population estimates also showed that several long-running demographic trends are holding up, including the growth of the corridor from St. Cloud to Rochester. The populations of both those metro areas rose nearly 12 percent from 2000 to 2008; the Twin Cities metro area grew nearly 9 percent.
Three Minnesota counties remain among the nation's fastest growing large counties from 2000 to 2008. They are Scott (33rd) up 44 percent, Sherburne (62nd) up 36 percent and Wright (81st) up 33 percent.
On the other hand, several rural counties with aging populations continue to decline, including Kittson, where the population fell more than 15 percent to 4,500 since 2000 and Lake of the Woods, which saw a 12 percent decline since the decade's start. Both counties are in northwestern Minnesota along the Canadian border.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)