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The Best Cities in North Dakota for Young Families

Dec. 7, 2013
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Best Cities in North Dakota for Young Families
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North Dakota’s relationship with oil has been turbulent, but the state’s recent boom has inspired optimism in many and re-shaped the state, including its economic make-up. There are fewer delinquent loans, new businesses are starting up and the City of Stanley, for example, has seen its median income grow by 140.2 percent in just 12 years.

We wanted to find the communities with the highest growth as well as a low cost of living and quality schools – in other words, those that offer the best financial mix for young families looking to move to North Dakota. So, we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities across the state:

  1. Does the city have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This non-profit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a 1 to 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at both median home values in each city and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  3. Is the city growing and prospering? We assessed a city’s economy by looking at average household income and income growth over the last decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

What makes these communities great? Let us know in the comments below.

The Best Cities for Young Families

1. Horace

Horace is a part of the Fargo metro area and one of the fastest-growing communities in the state. Over the last decade, the city’s population grew by 166 percent. The larger metro area offers a hospitable economic environment because of its inexpensive utilities and a low cost of labor – the latter thanks to the low turnover and absenteeism rates. Major employers include Sanford Fargo Medical Center, North Dakota State University and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

2. Watford City

Watford City is the seat of McKenzie County and boasts an affordable real estate market. Monthly homeowner costs – that includes property taxes, utilities and more – are low; residents save an average $756 annually compared to your average town in North Dakota, with a median $828 in homeowner costs each month. The local economy is based on industries like ranching and tourism.

3. Stanley

Stanley is the seat of Mountrail County, approximately 50 miles west of Minot. Thanks to the oil boom, the economy here has expanded significantly in recent years. From 2007 to 2011, Mountrail County was among the fastest-growing communities in the state, according to an April 2013 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The county added over 1,000 jobs, with most growth concentrated in mining, gas extraction and quarrying and oil. Stanley, in particular, saw its median income grow by 140.2 percent.

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4. Carrington

Carrington is a city in Foster County, and it is home to an award-winning school district. Carrington Elementary won a National Blue Ribbon last year – one of just two schools in the state. For fun, residents can visit a number of outdoor-recreation spots, including the nearby Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge: 16,000 acres of lakes, marshes and prairie grasslands.

5. Rugby

Rugby is the seat of Pierce County and is located approximately 65 miles east of Minot. The local school district, which also acts as one of the city’s largest employers, boasts a 93 percent high school graduation rate and a daily attendance rate of over 95 percent. Other big employers include Good Samaritan Hospital Association and Rugby Manufacturing.

6. Harvey

Harvey is in Wells County, and it has very affordable homes. The median home value of $65,800 is the lowest of any community to make this list. Nearby is the Lone Tree Wilderness Management Area, a 33,000-acre space where locals can fish and hunt.

7. Oakes

Oakes is a city in Dickey County, and it is big in farming and ranching. The community produces significant quantities of corn, soybeans, wheat, potatoes, vegetables and honey, which are shipped worldwide. The community’s schools also boast one of the highest graduation rates in the state, at more than 95 percent – a significant margin over the state rate of 87 percent.

8. Valley City

Valley City is a university town of 6,589 people in Barnes County. Valley City State University gets its students involved in the larger community, too; this past spring, VCSU students in Jonna Ziniel’s public relations course filmed videos to promote tourism in Valley City. The city is home to an award-winning elementary school as well. Washington Elementary earned a 9 out of 10 from GreatSchools, and, earlier this year, before his retirement, Principal Wayne Denault was named the region’s principal of the year by the North Dakota Association of Elementary School Principals.

9. Bottineau

Bottineau is the seat of Bottineau County, just a few miles from the U.S.-Canada border. The community is known as the Four Seasons Playground of North Dakota because of the numerous recreational activities residents and visitors can enjoy year-round. In the summer, locals can water-ski on Lake Metigoshe and, in the winter, snow-ski on Turtle Mountain.

10. Beulah

Beulah is in Mercer County, and it known as the Energy Capital of the Midwest because of its high-tech and mining industries. Dakota Gasification Company, for example, operates in town, and it claims to be the cleanest energy plant in the entire state. For fun, residents can enjoy Lake Sakakawea, a popular fishing spot with trout, salmon, northern pike and sauger.

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Horace Fargo 9 $212,300 $1,573 $91,071 95.8% 68.3
2 Watford City Williston 4 $82,800 $765 $62,155 109.4% 58.1
3 Stanley Minot 3 $78,700 $811 $57,639 140.2% 57.7
4 Carrington Jamestown 7 $78,200 $897 $44,792 43.6% 57.2
5 Rugby Minot 8 $84,900 $905 $32,428 27.3% 57.0
6 Harvey 8 $65,800 $903 $38,359 16.2% 56.6
7 Oakes Aberdeen, SD 8 $80,200 $980 $36,116 19.3% 55.8
8 Valley City Jamestown 7 $88,000 $951 $38,091 35.8% 54.7
9 Bottineau 6 $69,900 $811 $42,167 45.3% 54.4
10 Beulah Bismarck 6 $116,700 $1,005 $63,529 40.4% 53.6
11 Dickinson 5 $135,600 $1,114 $54,541 72.9% 51.9
12 Jamestown 6 $96,600 $962 $43,019 36.6% 51.5
13 Bowman Dickinson 6 $104,100 $850 $40,833 29.0% 51.1
14 Grafton Grand Forks 6 $66,300 $900 $41,250 24.1% 50.7
15 Hazen Bismarck 5 $101,700 $969 $61,094 38.8% 50.1


The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

34 North Dakota cities and areas designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 1,500 were considered.

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