Census shows growth in Cook County, population drop in Koochiching County while St. Louis County remains stagnant

Duluth grew by just 432 people in the last decade, a figure still below its 2000 figure.

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The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday released data showing population changes over the last decade.

As a whole, the 11-county Northland region of Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin only decreased slightly, with a combined population of 431,134 on April 1, 2020 — down 171 people from the last Census conducted a decade ago.

As a state, Minnesota saw a population increase of 402,000 residents — up 7.6% — since 2010 while Wisconsin saw nearly 207,000 more residents — a 3.6% increase.

The Northland county with the largest growth as a percentage of population over the last decade came from Cook County, which grew by 8.2%, or 424 people, to 5,600. Bayfield County grew by 8% — from 15,014 to 16,220 over the last decade.


Northland population change over the past 10 years.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Mary Somnis, executive director of the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority, said area real estate agents have been incredibly busy lately and credited the county's access to "excellent" broadband for drawing people in.

"We have really good broadband and it's really beautiful here," Somnis said.

Meanwhile, the largest drop in population came from Koochiching County, which saw its population fall 9.4% — from 13,311 in 2010 to 12,062 in 2020.

Paul Nevanen, director of the Koochiching Economic Development Authority, said the decrease in population is something they've been expecting and that it's driven by the area's reliance on just two industries: the Boise Paper Company's mill in International Falls and tourism.

Automation at the paper plant has meant fewer people working there and the county's location way up on the border with Canada puts it far away from everything else, he said.

"On the one hand it's frustrating, but it doesn't fly in the face of what we've been experiencing," Nevanen said. "This is a trend that's been arcing here in Kooch County and one of the challenges for our organization — and everybody here — is to try to stabilize and just hold on to what we got."

Decades-long population stagnation continued in St. Louis County and Duluth, the region's most populous county and city.


The Census only counted 5 additional people in St. Louis County since 2010. Its 2020 population sits at 200,231. Meanwhile, Duluth recorded a population of 86,697, up from 86,265 in 2010 but down from 86,918 in 2000.

Here's a rundown of the 11-county Northland region:

Northland counties that have grown since 2010

Cook County, Minnesota

Percent Change: 8.2

2020 Total Population: 5,600

2010 Total Population: 5,176

Bayfield County, Wisconsin

Percent Change: 8.0


2020 Total Population: 16,220

2010 Total Population: 15,014

Lake County, Minnesota

Percent Change: 0.4

2020 Total Population: 10,905

2010 Total Population: 10,866

Douglas County, Wisconsin

Percent Change: 0.3

2020 Total Population: 44,295

2010 Total Population: 44,159

St. Louis County, Minnesota

Percent Change: 0.0

2020 Total Population: 200,231

2010 Total Population: 200,226

Northland counties that have shrunk since 2010

Koochiching County, Minnesota

Percent Change: -9.4

2020 Total Population: 12,062

2010 Total Population: 13,311

Aitkin County, Minnesota

Percent Change: -3.1

2020 Total Population: 15,697

2010 Total Population: 16,202

Pine County, Minnesota

Percent Change: -2.9

2020 Total Population: 28,876

2010 Total Population: 29,750

Ashland County, Wisconsin

Percent Change: -0.8

2020 Total Population: 16,027

2010 Total Population: 16,157

Itasca County, Minnesota

Percent Change: -0.1

2020 Total Population: 45,014

2010 Total Population: 45,058

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
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