Southwest Florida Metros Among Nationís Fastest Growing
March 23, 2017
Author: Ryan Mills
Southwest Florida is one of the fastest growing regions in one of the fastest growing states in the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday. The Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area’s 3.1 percent growth rate was the second-highest in the state and fifth-highest in the nation, according to census figures. The metro area grew by 22,051 people between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, and now has a population of 722,336.
The Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island metro area added 8,566 residents — total population, 365,136 — and grew 2.4 percent, tied with Port St. Lucie for the eighth-fastest growing metro in the state and 17th in the nation, according to census figures. Florida metro areas made up 10 of the nation’s Top 20 fastest growing areas in terms of growth rate, led by The Villages, which grew by 4.3 percent, the fastest in the nation for four years running. “We have a high quality of life here,” Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson said. “It’s not perfect, but people in general come here, they see it, they like it, and so they migrate here either to retire or to set up a home and raise a family and work and play.”
Also in Southwest Florida, the Punta Gorda metro area in Charlotte County added 5,271 residents and grew 3 percent, good enough for the third-fastest growth rate in the state and eighth nationwide. The North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area added 20,444 residents and grew at 2.7 percent, fourth in the state and 10th nationwide.
Southwest Florida leaders cited the state’s warm weather, its beaches, outdoor activities and the absence of a state income tax as reasons why people want to move here. The region also has benefited from the growth of Florida Gulf Coast University and an increasingly business-friendly environment, Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendegrass said. “All that together has made us a more popular place,” he said. Naples Mayor Bill Barnett called the region’s growth “pretty amazing.” Naples is no longer the small town it once was, he said. The city, he said, has always welcomed new residents. “There’s no going back, and we have to do our best to prepare for (growth),” Barnett said. “We’ve got the ambiance,” he added. “We’ll always have that friendly, small-town atmosphere.” Growth brings challenges, none bigger in the Naples area than traffic, Barnett said. Henderson cited affordable housing as a challenge. He said his city is working with developers who specialize in multifamily housing in an effort to address the issue. “It’s our belief there is pent-up demand for affordable housing,” he said.
Fort Myers also is combating a surge in violent crime that has plagued the city in recent years. The 2015 Zombicon shooting that left one man dead and several injuredand the 2016 Club Blu shooting that killed two teenagers in a downtown nightclub gave the city unwanted national attention. Henderson said he doesn’t think fluctuations in crime will halt the city’s growth.
“The perception is way worse than the reality,” Henderson said, “but the message I’d like to send is, we’re dealing with it.”
Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor, who moved to the area in the late 1970s, said she misses the time when Naples was a small town. She used to wish Naples would stay that way, but she’s since come to accept that the community’s growth. “Change is inevitable. We just have to direct that change,” she said. “Growth is inevitable. We just have to balance that growth.” Florida also had three of the Top 10 fastest growing metro areas in the nation in terms of overall population growth:
The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro has a population of 6.07 million 6,066,387 and added 64,670 residents between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, sixth most nationwide.
The Tampa-St.Petersburg-Clearwater metro has a population of 3.03 million and added 61,085 residents, seventh most nationwide.
The Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metro has a population of 2.44 million and added 59,125 residents, eighth most nationwide.
The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas, metro area led the nation, adding 143,435 residents, followed by the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metro, which added 125,005 new residents.