Census numbers bear out boom in SW Florida

Census numbers bear out boom in SW Florida

By Brian Gleason, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.

Census numbers bear out boom in SW Florida

Psssst, Southwest Florida is in the midst of a population boom.

OK, it’s not exactly a state secret, but Census Bureau figures released Thursday confirm what we’ve seen over the past six years.

While the study focused on interstate migration between the 25 largest metropolitan statistical areas — the Tampa-St. Petersburg area had the second-highest rate of annual net in-migration between 2000 and 2004 — the numbers also offer a glimpse of growth trends in the smaller counties surrounding the nation’s metropolises. Net in-migration accounts for both new residents and those that leave or die.

Two of those counties are Charlotte and Sarasota, where North Port’s explosive growth made it one of only 18 counties in Florida with net in-migration averaging higher than 5,000 per year between 2000 and 2004. North Port issued 4,114 new home permits in 2005, indicating that the trend highlighted in the census study is accelerating.

Not to be left out, Charlotte County joined the five Southwest Florida counties that registered a net inmigration rate higher than 20 per 1,000 residents. Charlotte County issued 2,744 new home permits in 2005. While not quite in North Port’s range, the figure represents an 80 percent jump from the number of permits Charlotte issued in 2001.

The key difference between North Port and Charlotte County is that a large chunk of homebuilding activity in North Port is taking place in gated communities like Heron Creek and Bobcat Trail, whereas Charlotte County’s home boom is spread out over thousands of individual lots. As big new subdivisions come on line in places like Burnt Store Road, Babcock Ranch, Murdock Village and elsewhere, Charlotte is poised for an even bigger wave of growth.

While area growth has everyone’s attention, it is instructive to know that other areas of the state are seeing even bigger bumps. In the St. Augustine area, Flagler County led all counties in the country with a net inmigration rate of 79 people per 1,000. Tiny Lake County just north of Orlando has been the benefactor of Orange County’s ongoing Disney-fueled boom. The county registered net inmigration rate of 50.1 people per 1,000.

Statewide, Florida’s average net in migration (which excludes legal and illegal immigrants) between 2000 and 2004 was 190,894, nearly three times the second-place state, Arizona. The widespread growth is important to this area because it means we will be just one of many voices clamoring for road and school funds. Absent any increase in federal and state funding, more of the burden for infrastructure will fall on existing residents and newcomers in the form of higher impact fees and user taxes.

North Port was forced to scramble to address its growth issues and still faces significant stormwater and road challenges. Charlotte, while booming, has a short window of opportunity, knowing what is approaching, to at least address such matters, if not implement additional policies to avoid chaos. Already, a private sector movement is gathering steam to produce an East County plan similar to the Burnt Store Initiative. It’s not implausible that Charlotte’s coming growth could dwarf the numbers above.

BRIAN GLEASON gleason@sun-herald.com

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