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Speaking out: Lincoln, Mandan show greatest growth rates in region

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In recent months, the U.S. Census Bureau released demographic data from the nation’s 2020 Census. As North Dakota’s data become available, we’re able to examine how our community changed over the 10-year period between the 2010 census and the 2020 census.

Some trends we can observe are not surprising. For instance, our region has become increasingly urban. However, our region’s nuanced patterns of migration, births and deaths over the decade may have a few surprises for you. Following, I dive into the data from to show which of our local communities have changed the most.

From 2010 to 2020, the total population of North Dakota grew by 16%, from 672,591 to 779,094 residents. Our region -- Planning Region VII (Burleigh, Emmons, Grant, Kidder, McLean, Mercer, Morton, Oliver, Sheridan and Sioux counties) -- also grew by 16%. This means that our region's growth from 141,864 to 164,906 residents reflects an average growth rate when compared with the rest of the state. However, growth patterns within Region VII reveal that some communities shrunk while others exploded.

Indeed, virtually all of Region VII’s growth occurred in the Bismarck Metro Area (defined as Burleigh, Morton and Oliver counties). The metro area grew 21%, from 110,625 to 133,626 residents. By contrast, the total population of the region’s seven other counties -- 31,280 residents – is a mere 41 more people than in 2010.

On the whole, Burleigh and Morton counties both experienced 21% population growth, but this too hides more nuanced 10-year trends. Oliver County, home to the city of Center and the smallest of the three counties in the metro area, did not show such growth. It grew by merely 31 people to a total of 1,877. Further, the 21% growth rate of Burleigh-Morton is better understood by looking at Bismarck, Mandan, rural Burleigh, rural Morton and Lincoln separately.

Burleigh County’s city of Lincoln had a whopping 77% rate of growth, from 2,406 to 4,257 residents. Mandan’s growth rate (32%) is impressive as well, bringing the city’s population from 18,331 to 24,206. In the same period, Bismarck and rural Burleigh (Burleigh County excluding Bismarck-Lincoln) had somewhat similar growth rates. Bismarck grew from 61,272 to 73,622 (20%), while rural Burleigh grew from 17,630 to 20,579 (17%).

Interestingly, rural Morton (Morton County excluding Mandan) had only 9,085 residents in 2020 -- 55 fewer people than in 2010. Thus, rural Morton did not experience the growth that rural Burleigh experienced. Morton County grew distinctly via Mandan while Burleigh County grew throughout, but especially in Lincoln. It seems that Morton and Burleigh counties are urbanizing somewhat differently.

Worth noting, the higher growth rates of Lincoln and Mandan relative to Bismarck seem to follow unique paths. From the 2000 census to the 2010 census, Mandan’s growth rate equaled Bismarck’s 10% rate in that period. This reveals that Mandan’s accelerated growth relative to Bismarck is a more recent trend. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2010, Lincoln’s population grew by 39%. Thus, Lincoln’s accelerated growth was already underway near the start of the millennium.

Altogether, area residents are living in Lincoln and Mandan at greater rates than before. Bismarck’s sister cities have been thriving. Watch out, Bismarck!

Ellie Shockley is a political psychologist, social scientist and education researcher. This column represents her personal views and not the views of any organization. She completed a doctorate at the University of Chicago and postdoctorate at Nebraska. She lives in Mandan. Find her past columns at


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