Fastest Growing Boomtowns in America

Fastest growing boomtown: Williston, N.D.

CNN Money logoBy Les Christie

You've likely never heard of some of the fastest-growing boomtowns in America -- areas that started out so tiny but are gaining attention and growing in population fast. Rising oil and gas prices have brought big oil, plenty of workers and lots of housing headaches to these boomtowns. Finding affordable housing in these areas can be difficult: In the tiny town of Williston, N.D. -- which is the fastest-growing boomtown in America -- you'll find rental prices as high as New York City. Click through the gallery below to see the boomtowns growing at an astounding rate.

Fastest-Growing Boomtowns
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Fastest Growing Boomtowns in America

Population: 26,677
1-year growth: 9.3%

The small city of Williston, N.D., was once a sleepy farm town -- until oil companies discovered ways to tap the vast Bakken Formation believed to hold as many as 24 billion barrels of oil.

"It's a game-changer, a bonanza," said Tom Rolfstad, executive director for the city economic development department. Workers have flocked to the town. "We've doubled in size in three years, and we will double again in the next three years," said Rolfstad, who grew up in the area.

But the town needs to take care of one major problem first: A severe housing shortage. Rolfstad said that developers fly into town nearly every day with plans for commercial and residential building.

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Photo: AP

Population: 26,771
1-year growth: 6.5%

Located on the southern edge of the Bakken Formation, Dickinson is going through similar growth as Williston. In fact, out of all metro areas -- large and small -- last year, Williston is the only place in the country where the population grew faster.

Here, too, the influx of job seekers has left the city short on housing. Rents have nearly doubled in three years, with two-bedroom apartments going for $1,600 or more a month.

The number of building permits for single-family homes more than quadrupled in 2012. "Usually, winter halts construction," said city administrator Shawn Kessel. "But we've had two pretty mild winters in a row and construction never did stop."

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Photo: Google Maps

Population: 16,117
1-year growth: 4.6%

Oil companies have been drilling successfully for crude in the Andrews area for more than 80 years. However, rising oil prices have caused a recent spike in production.

And with advances in drilling techniques, oilmen have also been able to tap reserves in West Texas's Permian Basin that they couldn't economically exploit in the past. Now the oilfields produce 20% more oil than three years ago.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Population: 151,662
1-year growth: 4.6%

The hometown of the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, has been a major oil-producing area since the early 1920s. It's a white-collar town where many of the managers and executives who supervise oil production live. That's where "W's" dad, George H.W. Bush, moved to get into the oil business.

The current energy boom is driving Midland's population growth, according to Thomas Mesenbourg, acting director of the Census Bureau. "The Permian Basin, located primarily in West Texas and North Dakota, accounted for almost half of the total U.S. growth in firms that mine or extract oil and gas, during [the] one-year period," he said.

In December, the unemployment rate in Midland was a miniscule 3.1 percent, down from 3.6 percent earlier.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Population: 34,524
1-year growth: 4.1%

Utah is the nation's 11th largest oil-producing state, most of which comes from the northeast corner near VernalHigh energy prices have boosted the town's economy in recent years, according to Mayor Gary Showalter. Besides the well-paying oilfield jobs, several branch offices of companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger have opened in the area, he said, with more coming.

But the city isn't solely reliant on oil drilling to keep its economy afloat. It also has one of the largest deposits of natural gas in the country. And the area's natural beauty, Old West roots and excellent fishing draws tourists, as does the area's plentiful deposits of dinosaur fossils.

There's also mining for an asphalt-like mineral called Gilsonite that is used in dozens of products. It's in high demand as an ingredient in oil drilling mud, which keeps drill bits clean and cool.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Population: 23,081
1-year growth: 3.5%

Visitors to the "Natural Gas Capital of the World" know exactly where the town's wealth lies: They are greeted by a 180-foot tall, non-operating oil rig as soon as they enter downtown. Located about halfway between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas, Elk City lies smack in the middle of the Anadarko Basin, a major natural gas reserve.

The city also serves as a retail and health care center for people -- many of whom are energy industry workers -- living within an 80-mile radius, according to Jim Mason, director of economic and community development.

Like most boomtowns, Elk City is dealing with a housing shortage, according to Mason. A never-completed housing development that cratered in the "Oil Patch" bust of the 1980s has been relaunched, with 85 new homes slated to be completed within 18 months. Another 104 apartments and 40 new houses are also being built.

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Photo: Flickr/farmalldanzil

Population: 53,217
1-year growth: 3.5%

Elko has long been riding the roller coaster of gold prices, which have been on a steep climb over the past 10 years. Yet, while the area mines produce about as much gold as South Africa, the quality isn't exactly top-notch.

"The gold mining here is microscopic," according to Curtis Calder, Elko's city manager. "You can't even see it." But when gold prices are soaring at $1,600 an ounce, even "microscopic gold" is worth pursuing. Mining companies have stepped up exploration and extraction and are hiring.

Those who don't find work mining gold can try their hand at molybdenum -- a metal used to make very hard steel alloys. A new $1 billion molybdenum mine is currently under construction.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Population: 141,325
1-year growth: 3.4%

Located just 20 miles from Midland, Texas, Odessa is a smaller, working-class city made famous by "Friday Night Lights," a book -- and later a film and television series -- that described the almost religious fervor of West Texas high school football.

Odessa's latest oil boom began once "[t]he oil companies figured out a way to make drilling old wells cost effective," said Mike George, president of Odessa's Chamber of Commerce. "That has turned an old oilfield -- the Permian Basin -- into the biggest play in the nation."

Developers built about 500 new homes last year to handle the newcomers. And nearly 2,500 new businesses opened in Odessa over the past three years, according to George.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Population: 78,621
1-year growth: 3%

It's not just oil and gas fueling Casper's economic growth, coal and uranium are playing a part, too. Improvements in oil drilling techniques are enabling oil companies to squeeze more crude out of deposits. In the lands north of town, 2,500 new wells are expected to be drilled over the next couple of years, according to City Manager John Patterson. And, after a 20-year hiatus, uranium mining is being pursued again in the mountains, said Patterson.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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