Florida population levels experiencing mini-boom after decade of contraction

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Characterized over the past several years as a place from which people move, Southeast Florida has seen a new mini-boom in population growth following a decade of contraction, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday via Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

Between 2010 and 2011, 92,045 residents moved to the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area, a 1.7 percent increase. The region boasted the sixth largest increase in the country, according to data compiled by the Census Bureau in what is the first major revision to the 2010 Census.

Tampa/St. Petersburg saw the second largest influx of new residents in Florida over the period, with 36,573 new residents pouring into the metropolitan area over the year. Among Florida counties, Sumter led the way in terms of percentage growth, climbing to 11 spot with an increase of 4.6 percent.

Retirees appear to be coming back, as well. The Villages, a giant retirement community between and Ocala and Leesburg, saw 4.6 percent growth – the second highest growth figure in the nation after the energy boom town of Williston, N.D.

Thursday’s news has brought more specificity – and validation – to reports first emerging in December that showed Florida seeing population gains following several years of flat or negative numbers. In a state that relies on construction and sales tax for much of its revenue, the return is expected to have an impact on state and local coffers.

“To us, population is the strongest driver in our economy,” said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Bureau of Economic and Demographic Research. “For us to get well into recovery, we needed to see population growth to come back. The statewide data we started seeing in December and is holding up now appears to bear that out.”

The census figures released Thursday show a shift in demographics as a number of counties and cities that exemplified runaway growth between 2000 and 2010, fell off the chart as overbuilding and the housing collapse that began in 2007 and has plagued particular regions of the country.

Palm Coast, which during the century’s first decade was the nation’s fastest growing metro area, fell to 55th place in the past years as the region continued to suffer from a lack of industry and an economy especially reliant on construction and growth. Between July 2010 and 2011, the region lost about 263 residents.

That town’s loss paled in comparison to Las Vegas, which was the third fastest-growing metro area between 2000 and 2010. It fell to 151st place.

“Our nation is constantly changing, and these estimates provide us with our first measure of how much sub-state areas have grown or declined in total population since Census Day, April 1, 2010,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said in a statement. “We’re already seeing different patterns of population growth than we saw in the last decade.”

But other Florida cities hit hard in the latter part of the last decade have begun to rebound. Cape Coral, which was near the epicenter of the housing bust in 2008, was ranked 40th among 366 metro areas in terms of growth during the period. Tampa and Orlando also experienced relatively strong growth, the bureau reported.

“It is validating what we had expected to see,” Baker said. “But it is nice to see how well we have ranked against other states and our cities against other parts of the country.”

In North Dakota, Williston, an oil shale boom town near the Canadian border, is seeing growth approaching 10 percent.

Texas cities led the list of fast growing areas during the 15-month ending July 1 2011. Dallas-Fort Worth gained 155,000 while Houston added 140,000 residents during the period.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.