December 18, 2022

This December, the American Community Survey (ACS) released its 2021 five-year estimates. This data release offers the first glimpse into trends since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and provides some evidence on population trends that have long been subject to speculation.

  • Five of eight Northland counties (Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Lake, and Douglas) have added population since 2016, while population loss in Itasca and St. Louis Counties was negligible. 
  • Over the past five years, population growth exceeded 20% in Gnesen and Normanna Townships north of Duluth, plus the Town of Parkland just south of Superior. Outside of Lake County, the areas around Duluth have shown the most consistent growth in the region, a trend that mirrors national development patterns.
  • Duluth itself showed modest growth, with its population edging upward to 86,711. Growth was concentrated in the eastern and Lincoln Park neighborhoods of the city, while the population shrank in the Hillside areas and in its westernmost neighborhoods.
  • The population of the City of Hermantown exceeded 10,000.
  • Grand Marais’ population topped 1,500 for the first time in its history.
  • Areas of growth on the Iron Range include Fayal, Great Scott, Breitung, Lone Pine, and Biwabik Townships, and several deeply rural areas.
  • While the overall population trend of Iron Range communities is downward, losses are at lower rates than they have been in recent five-year increments, hovering around one percent in Hibbing and Virginia, and even showing modest growth in Hoyt Lakes and Gilbert.

The ACS is limited in its reach, and future years will be necessary before we can draw any sweeping conclusions about trends in the Northland. However, the initial data suggest that the region is seeing modest but real growth, with notable increases in rural pockets of St. Louis and Lake Counties. These changes raise questions about preparation for growth in rural areas, as communities prepare to accommodate new development or adapt to new populations. 

Northland Connection remains available to help track all of these trends and support communities as they prepare for the future. Contact Miriam Kero at or Karl Schuettler at for more information.