Economic RoundUp

One of the sites I use often to assess the health of a community is the Bureau of Economic Analysis at There you can find great information about states and metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) throughout the country.

Let’s take a look at how the Dakotas are doing in terms of population and economics. As of the last Census, North Dakota reported 672,591 people and South Dakota reported 814,180; giving a combined population of almost 1.5 million people.

The Dakotas have five MSAs, which are communities centered on cities with populations greater than 50,000. The five MSAs are Fargo, Bismarck, Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Grand Forks. Together, they had a combined population of 723,515, which is roughly 49% of the total population throughout the Dakotas. This suggests we are still a predominantly rural area in the early 21st century!

As of 2013, North Dakota’s economy was $56.3 billion a year, with 13% of economic activity devoted to agriculture and 28% devoted to exploiting and mining natural resources. South Dakota’s economy was $46.7 billion in that same year, with 14% of activity related to agriculture and 11% of output coming from government spending and payments, including military installations.

When compared to the 2010 Census, the GDP per capita in South Dakota was $47,827 and in North Dakota it was $52,754. To break that down by MSA, we can see that Fargo recognizes a GDP per capita of $54,613; Bismarck reports $47,738 per capita; Sioux Falls reports $65,329 per head; and Rapid City reports $43,562 per person. This suggests that Sioux Falls has 50% more economic output per person than Rapid City! Grand Forks comes in the lowest in 2010 at $40,503 per capita; although 2013 data suggests it may have bounced as high now as $47,594 per person.

North and South Dakota have a combined economic output of $103 billion, which is roughly the size of the economy of Morocco or Ecuador. The MSAs have a combined economic output of $49.7 billion, meaning the Dakota’s five largest cities together have the economy of roughly Panama or Serbia.

In terms of who became an MSA first, Sioux Falls crossed over the 50,000 mark in the late 1940s, followed by Fargo in the 1960s. Rapid City came next in the 1980s, and Bismarck arrived in the 1990s. Grand Forks was a late bloomer, crossing the 50,000 mark between 2000 and 2010.

Should the oil boom in western North Dakota sustain, we could see two additional communities in the Dakotas join the MSA “city” status. Minot presently has an estimated population of 46,300, and it is already designated a “micropolitan” statistical area with roughly 70,000 people living in the vicinity.

Williston could potentially be a second contender, although its population is challenging to estimate. While its population is believed to be roughly 20,000+ people, some estimates have placed it as high as 40,000. How the chips fall will all depend on how many people in the area chose to elect Williston as their permanent residence.

Even at 1.5 million people, the Dakotas make up less than 1% of the total US population which has now surpassed 320 million. And our economy of $103 billion is less than 1% of the total US GDP of $17 trillion. On the whole, our GDP per capita is slightly above the national average (which was around $48,000 in 2010), and our cost of living is substantially lower than the rest of the country. Primarily, it is this low cost of living and abundance of space which contributes greatly to our prosperity and better purchasing power.