Population study says Williston could have 44,000 by 2017

WILLISTON, N.D. – Williston’s booming population could be as high as nearly 44,000 people in 2017, according to a North Dakota State University study.

The population of Williams County could be as high as 70,000 in five years, according to analysis by the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics presented to city leaders this week. The projections are triple the population figures from the 2010 census.

The figures include permanent residents and temporary workers related to the region’s oil boom.

Current estimates show that Williston has about 33,000 people, including both permanent residents and workers who have homes elsewhere, according to the NDSU study.

Williams County, including the city of Williston, is home to as many as 51,000 people, including those in crew camps and RVs.

“There’s a lot of people in Williston and Williams County right now, perhaps more than people thought,” said NDSU assistant research professor Nancy Hodur, who was asked by the city to develop projections.

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser said city leaders need population estimates, including the number of temporary residents, to plan how large to build a sewage treatment plant, how many police and city staff to add and other city services.

City leaders also wanted some population estimates they can present to legislators for requests for funding, Koeser said.

“Realistically, no one knows for sure,” Koeser said of population projections. “But we still think it’s very important to try to plan.”

The 2010 U.S. census put Williston’s population at 14,716.

Census figures have underestimated Williston’s population because demographics are changing quickly and the census does not count workers who live in temporary housing, Hodur said. But the number of temporary workers is important for leaders to know because they also use city services, she said.

“Things are changing so fast. They need to have some sort of idea of a headcount so they can plan for infrastructure, public services and managing the buildout,” said Hodur, who did the analysis with fellow NDSU researcher Dean Bangsund.

In April, the Census Bureau called Williston the fastest-growing micro area in the country. Census estimates show Williams County grew 8.8 percent between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2011, not including temporary workers.

The NDSU study estimates population using two models, the first based on employment demands for the oil industry, and the second using information from the city and county about how much housing has been added, including crew camps and RV parks.

Population projections from the two models were similar, Hodur said.

The NDSU study did not do projections past five years.

“Any further than that, you’re guessing about what’s going to happen,” she said.

NDSU researchers also are working with western North Dakota school districts, including Williston, to provide estimates of future school enrollment.

The analysis shows that of Williston’s current population of about 33,000, about 18,000 of those are permanent residents.

Koeser said he was surprised to see the permanent population number that low, but he didn’t dispute the figure.

“The big factor is how many of these temporary residents can we transition to permanent?” Koeser said.

Williston’s population projections could change if the community doesn’t build enough housing, Hodur said.

“You’ve got a mobile workforce,” she said. “If housing isn’t there, they’ll go elsewhere.”

The housing projects that are being developed in the Williston area are in line with population projections, Hodur said.

“In the near term, it doesn’t appear that the city is in danger of way overbuilding,” she said.
Williston added 1,300 housing units in 2011 and has more than 1,400 housing units that were built or are under construction this year, said Shawn Wenko, deputy director for Williston Economic Development.

The city estimates it will add 2,000 housing units in 2013, Wenko said.
Koeser said he believes the city will catch up on housing in a couple of years, particularly with apartments.

“I don’t know if the price will be down yet, but I think you’ll at least be able to rent an apartment,” Koeser said.

Population estimates

Williston 2010 Census: 14,716
Williams County 2010 Census (including Williston): 22,398

2012 Williston service* population: 25,349 to 33,547
2012 Williams County service population: 49,320 to 51,061

2017 Williston service population projection: 39,678 to 43,993
2017 Williams County service population projection: 66,690 to 70,110

Source: NDSU Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics
* Service population includes temporary workers. Census figures do not count temporary workers.

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