UF study: Florida to experience continued growth despite hurricanes

February 20, 2006

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The spate of devastating hurricanes should not deter Florida’s population growth, which is expected to increase steadily over the next quarter century with the fastest growth occurring in metropolitan fringe areas, a new University of Florida study finds.

The state’s population, estimated at about 18 million people in April 2005, is forecast to reach about 20 million in 2010 and nearly 25 million in 2025, said Stefan Rayer, a demographer with UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

By 2030, the Sunshine State is expected to have 26,419,200 residents, about a half million more than last year’s projections called for, he said.

“Overall, Florida is one of the fastest growing states in the country and that is unlikely to change,” Rayer said. “While rates have declined since the 1970s, the growth rate is still very healthy, with projections calling for the years 2000 to 2010 to have the largest population increase in Florida’s history.”

The active 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons are unlikely to have much effect on state population growth, although some adjustments were made for four counties that were especially hard-hit by the storms, he said. These four counties were Escambia, Charlotte DeSoto and Hardee.

The counties projected to grow the fastest are Flagler, Sumter, Osceola, Walton, Collier and St. Johns. Flagler, Sumter and Osceola are expected to more than double in size by 2030, with Walton, Collier and St. Johns close behind, he said.

“Most of these counties are at the edge of metropolitan areas that are booming,” Rayer said.

The other fastest growing counties, Walton and Collier, are considered desirable for their coastal amenities, he said.

In sheer numbers, however, the largest counties are projected to add the most residents. While two-thirds of all counties are expected to grow faster percentage-wise than Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest county is projected to have the greatest population increase numerically, with about 775,000 more residents by 2030. It is followed by Broward, Orange, Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties.

Because of the 2004 hurricane season, the 2005 county population estimates were reduced from those of a year earlier by 3,600 for Escambia, about 3,000 for Charlotte, 1,500 for DeSoto and 450 for Hardee, Rayer said. In the case of Charlotte County, that results in about 6,000 fewer residents predicted for 2030, with the population projection being revised from about 239,000 to 233,000, he said.

“In the past, effects of these hurricanes have usually been short-lived,” he said. “The population may have declined from one year to another, but after that the growth pretty much picked up.”

The slowest growing county is projected to be Monroe, followed by Pinellas. “These two counties have grown very slowly in recent years because of the factor of land,” he said. “There just isn’t a lot of space left to build.”

The counties expected to add the fewest number of new residents are the small counties. Liberty, Lafayette, Hamilton, Glades and Jefferson, each with populations of less than 15,000, are projected to grow by 3,000 or less residents by 2030, he said.