Bismarck is on the Grow!

Are you tall? Seriously, how would you answer that question: are you tall? I recall a conversation with my building principal who was considerably over six feet tall. He was telling me about his brother. I asked, “Is he tall, too?” My boss looked at me and said, “Nah…he’s maybe… six-three, six-four.” (Oh, a little person, then).

I found his reply kind of fascinating. From his benchmark, his little brother was indeed “little”, a mere six-foot-four. That seems rather tall from the perspective of someone who is not quite five-foot-three. Yet I am tall, compared with my 25 year old niece Hannah, who is four-foot-eleven. It seems everything is relative to the standard in mind.

Take for example people who lament that North Dakota is slowing down, maybe coming to a standstill regarding growth. What is the comparison? The good news is we are moving from a period of unsustainable and rapid growth of five percent to a time of consistent and steady growth of two percent. Is that a decline? Yup, two is indeed less than five. However, at two percent Bismarck is still growing much faster than in the recent past, before the boom, when it was growing at one percent. Bismarck was on the grow. Bismarck is on the grow. Our city is now growing at a manageable rate, and as a school district, it is incumbent upon us to manage and plan for that growth. This demands a different strategy than was used during the recent boom.

When I first came to BPS five years ago, we faced a tsunami of new students. In response, the community gave us permission to build three new schools, move the sixth grade to middle school, and the ninth grade to high school, draw new boundaries to both fill new schools and maximize efficiencies wherever we could find space, remodel some areas and provide equity all over the district. Because Bismarck is still on the grow – not so much a tsunami as a gradual and steady flood, we need to respond by managing growth. Providing space at middle schools, studying elementary schools for equity as well as knowing when a building has served its useful life as a school house, and providing equity at the high schools are our next jobs.

People are moving to Bismarck for a number of reasons: jobs in health care and the service industry, as well as retirees seeking senior housing and medical care. The mayor told Renae Hoffman Walker and me in a meeting recently there are plans for $100 million in commercial construction as well as 6,000 new housing starts.

Here is some snapshot data.

Year Population Actual/Projected 10-Year Increase  
2000 55,392    
2010 61,272 +5,880 actual increase over 2000  
2020 79,370 +18,098 projected increase over 2010  
2030 96,865 +17,495 projected increase over 2020  
2040 114,361 +17,496 projected increase over 2030  
2000-2040 TOTAL +58,969 projected increase; more than double actual 2000 population.  
Source: U.S. Census Bureau & Community Development Dept., 2015.
Year Population Projected 10-Year Increase
2010 81,308  
2020 100,986 +11,595
2030 110,932 + 9,946
2040 113,937 + 3,005
2010-2040 TOTAL +24,546 projected increase
Source: 2016 ND Dept. of Commerce Census Office “Projected Migration Scenario”– assuming a higher rate of in-migration to the state in the earlier years and a gradual leveling off in future years; changing economic conditions can affect actual population change.


  • Bismarck-Mandan employment gained 2.2% in 2015 (compared to Fargo-Moorhead at 1.0%).
  • North Dakota’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 2.8% for December 2015, unchanged from December 2014. The national rate in December 2015 was 4.8% un-employment.

Source: ND Job Service Dec. 2015 report.

  • ND has highest Gallup Good Jobs employment rate of all 50 states at 51.5%.

Source: Gallup January 2016.

Year Owner Rental Total
• 2015-2020 1,754 1,250 3,004
• 2020-2025 1,668 1,215 2,883
• 2025-2030 1,884 1,306 3,190
TOTAL 5,306 3,771 9,077 additional housing units in 15 years (2015-2030)
Source: Hanna: Keelan Associates, P.C., 2015, ND Housing Demand Analysis through 2030.  
• Bismarck Public School first day fall enrollment (K-12) for 2011-12 through 2015-16 school years.
2011 11,008 +   233  
2012 11,417 +   409  
2013 11,776 +   359  
2014 12,049 +   273  
2015 12,410 +   361  
5-year increase: +1,635    
Grades 2015-16 2019-2020    
K-5 6,124 6,909 +  785 (1,152 students per K-5th grade by 2020)  
6-8 2,734 3,379 +  645  
9-12 3,546 3,955 +  391  
K-12 12,422 14,242 +1,820 (added to 1,635 in past 5 years is 3,455)  
Source: school demographer Rob Schwarz, RSP & Associates

As people talk about growth in North Dakota, remember Bismarck was on the grow at one per-cent, then was on the grow too fast at five percent, and is now on the grow at two percent. We need to respond to that growth in a manner that provides equitable schools for students and staff and protects academics, culture, and economics. Please stay in tune with plans to do just that.


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