Two cities' fortunes changed by population

Montana/North Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1999  | October 1999 issue

More the merrier? Perhaps, but at least the more people living in a city, the more national exposure and federal and state funding it receives.

As the 2000 census approaches, Missoula, Mont., has grown large enough to qualify for Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) status, while the population in Grand Forks, N.D., is expected to finish down from 1990, yet retain its MSA status.

When census data was last released in fall 1998, Missoula surpassed the 50,000 mark, qualifying as an MSA. The advantages of MSA status range from national exposure among companies to more federal grant money, said Jim Sylvester, an economist with the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, University of Montana, Missoula.

"The big economic impact is that the area shows up on the radar screen of national consulting firms," Sylvester said. "They only look at MSAs." Companies planning to relocate or retailers looking to expand will see Missoula listed among other cities in reports on population, employment rates and average temperatures.

Missoula also now qualifies for funding that addresses concerns of urban centers, such as programs in public transportation, low-income housing and major infrastructure, such as sewers, Sylvester said. In the private sector, hospitals receive more favorable reimbursement rates.

Unlike Missoula, population has slipped in Grand Forks. The 1997 flood sent people packing from the area; population has dropped by over 3,000 people, according to Floyd Hickok, a demographer at Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization.

While the city isn't in danger of losing its MSA status since Grand Forks and East Grand Forks combined exceed 50,000, the smaller population means decreased funding from federal and state agencies that tie grants to population.

"It's unfortunate that the flood happened in the seventh year of the decade," Hickok said. Since funding for the next 10 years will be based on the 2000 census, the city could lose up to several million dollars.

Rob Grunewald