Tracking a Population Phenomenon

By Staff Report | April 22, 2013

Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund have been tasked with a unique challenge: track the population in Dickinson, N.D. and Williston, N.D., at a time when data only a month old is out-of-date. “There is a large workforce that works in North Dakota but lives elsewhere,” Hodur tells The Bakken magazine, “and the census isn’t going to capture that population.” To overcome old data and include the temporary workforce, or service population as the team calls it, the team had to get creative. “There aren’t any models existing out there that do what we have done. We have in some sense invented this modeling," Hodur says. 

The economists created two population estimate models. The build-out model is linked to the housing offerings currently in the tested region. “The concept is pretty simple. Total up how many beds you have and you can come up with an estimate of a service population,” Hodur says. To do that, the team compiled all construction, workforce housing permits, RV park lists, and other lists from 2010 until now that would indicate a bed is present. Bangsund says the build-out model is a pretty firm account of the number of bodies in the tested region, a reality check, she says, of the number of people in the region.

The second model developed by the team is linked to current employment numbers and the numbers needed for future employment. This model involved using several coefficients in a formula that Bangsund says, helps to predict the expected path forward for population by accounting for oil and gas retrieval projections and the services linked to each segment of that projected timeline. 

The conclusions for the work are many. First, both models, to the surprise of Hodur and Bangsund, arrived at the same end. The cities are growing and will continue to grow until populations nearly double over the next decade. Second, their work may never be complete, because, as more housing comes online, more services are required and the families of the service population move in. And third, people who aren’t familiar with the phenomenon happening in the Bakken are struggling to understand that this play does not exhibit the traditional boom and bust cycle of other plays. “The hesitation and conservatism that this is not going to be around that long is a real detriment to getting geared up and taking on this challenge,” Bangsund says.