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A farming ND county gets a boost from New York
Keeping Young NDJM1 5340727
Rebecca and Neil Meidinger hold their new baby, Jacob, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008 in Bismarck, N.D. Meidinger's parents, Duane and Karen Tillotson, along with siblings and aunts, uncles, cousins and their children _ mostly dairy farmers _ moved to McIntosh County from upstate New York, boosting the county population by about two dozen since 2000. The Census Bureau said McIntosh County had the oldest population in North Dakota in 2000. The county now ranks second. - photo by Associated Press
    BISMARCK, N.D. — The lone grocery store in the south-central North Dakota farming town of Zeeland has been selling disposable diapers, just for adults.
    ‘‘We stock Depends, but we don’t have any for babies,’’ said Kyle Anderson, a store clerk in the McIntosh County town of about 140 people south of Bismarck.
    The Census Bureau said McIntosh County had the oldest population in North Dakota in 2000. But thanks to a family of dairy farmers from New York, that’s changing.
    Rebecca Meidinger, who gave birth to her first child, a boy, in Bismarck on Aug. 11, says the Zeeland store will have to stock baby diapers now.
    Meidinger’s parents, Duane and Karen Tillotson, along with siblings and aunts, uncles, cousins and their children — mostly dairy farmers — also moved to McIntosh County from upstate New York, boosting the county population by about two dozen since 2000. Six children have been born since that time, ‘‘and one’s on the way,’’ Meidinger said.
    ‘‘We’re doing our part,’’ said Meidinger, a math teacher married to Neil Meidinger, who grew up in McIntosh County.
    Census figures show only 99 of the McIntosh County’s 2,752 residents are under the age of 5. The Meidingers’ tiny son, Jacob, will make it an even 100.
    Only Hawaii’s Kalawao County, with a median age of 57.1, has an older population than North Dakota’s Sheridan and McIntosh counties, said Richard Rathge, the state Data Center director and North Dakota demographer.
    The Tillotsons found North Dakota on their own. They drove through the state on vacation in the late 1990s. Duane said he was impressed with the land and the elbow room.
    ‘‘The air is easy to breathe,’’ Duane said. ‘‘You can drive for 30 miles and maybe meet one or two cars.’’
    ‘‘And they wave at us,’’ Karen said. ‘‘The people are the reason we’re here.’’
    Duane Tillotson said North Dakota offered plenty of incentives to move his dairy operation from McLean, N.Y.
    ‘‘Feed was cheap and there was plenty of land,’’ Tillotson said. Taxes are far lower in North Dakota than New York, and zoning laws are less onerous, he said.
    ‘‘I couldn’t even put a door on my house in New York without getting a permit,’’ he said.
    North Dakota’s proportion of age groups between 18 and 29 has increased by about 14 percent since 2000, largely in the urban areas, Rathge said.
    ‘‘That’s great news because they’re the ones who have kids,’’ Rathge said. ‘‘This is what we’ve been waiting to hear, because those numbers have been going down for quite some time.’’
    Young adults are relocating to the state or staying because of a strong economy, spurred largely by a boom in the state’s oil revenue, Rathge said.
    The Tillotsons said North Dakota is a great place to raise a family. At 65 and nearing retirement, Duane said he is selling off his dairy herd, and family members are finding both farm-related and other jobs in the county.
    No one longs to move back East, he said.
    ‘‘Everybody who has come out here loves it,’’ Duane Tillotson said.
    Census figures show North Dakota’s median age rose in 2007 to 37 years, up from 36.2 years in 2000. Nationwide, the median age 36.6, up from is 35.3 in 2000, Rathge said.
    ‘‘An interesting contradiction is that in 2000, we ranked 15th oldest in the nation but we now are at 30th,’’ Rathge said. North Dakota’s small population makes its ranking volatile, he said.
    Of North Dakota’s 639,715 residents, 17,450 are age 85 and older, Rathge said. North Dakota is tied with Florida as having the country’s highest proportion of residents in that age group, at 2.7 percent, he said.
    Surveys of rural counties in Plains states show disproportionate populations of people older than 50 and younger than 18, said Kim Preston, a spokeswoman for the rural advocacy group Center for Rural Affairs, based in Lyons, Neb. Many say a lack of job opportunities chases young people away, but Preston said wanderlust also is a factor.
    ‘‘There is not much you can do about it, short of tying them up,’’ she said.

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