ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Sure, Florida's got sunshine, beaches and palm trees. But the driving force behind it being home to many of the nation's fastest-growing cities has been the return of hospitality, trade and construction jobs.
New figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau showed Florida was home to six of the nation's 20 fastest-growing metro areas from July 1, 2013, to July 1, 2014. During that time, the state added another 192,000 people and surpassed New York to become the nation's third most-populous state with 19.9 million residents. Only California and Texas have more people.
"Part of the population growth is everybody is coming back since there are jobs aplenty and construction is on fire," said Jeff Briggs, planning manager for the City of Winter Park, one of the most affluent communities in metro Orlando.
The Villages retirement community located northwest of Orlando was the nation's fastest-growing metro area last year with a 5.4 percent increase that raised the population to 114,000 residents. The community is known for its golf carts, which are used almost as much as cars, and for the sometimes frisky behavior of its 55-and-older residents.
"It's always hectic in The Villages," said Paula Roberts, an office manager for Ronnie's Plumbing, which services The Villages. "The traffic can be bad, bumper to bumper, especially when the snowbirds are down here."
The other Florida metro areas in the top 20 were Fort Myers, Naples, Orlando, Sarasota and Panama City. Of those metro areas, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples would have had negative or stagnant growth if not for the influx of new residents. Those areas recorded low numbers of births and high numbers of deaths.
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITIES
While some of Florida's smaller metro areas were the nation's fastest-growing communities, in pure numbers, Florida's population growth was driven by new people moving to the state's largest cities along the Interstate 4 corridor and in South Florida.
More than half of Florida's growth last year came from three metropolitan areas: South Florida, Orlando and Tampa.
South Florida, an area stretching from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade County with 5.9 million residents, had the eighth-highest population increase in the nation with a jump of 66,000 new residents from July 2013 to July 2014. International migration — people moving in from other countries — accounted for three-quarters of the growth, while natural population growth made up the rest.
Metro Orlando, with a population of 2.3 million people, increased by about 50,000 new residents. Domestic migration accounted for under half of the growth, international migration represented less than a third of the growth and natural increase made up less than a quarter of the growth. Natural growth compares the number of babies born to the number of deaths.
The Tampa region increased by 41,000 people and now stands at 2.9 million residents. Domestic migration made up more than two-thirds of the growth and international migration accounted for more than a quarter of the increase. Natural growth barely registered.
DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS
Texas snagged the top spots in both numerical increase by person for counties and metro areas.
Harris County, Texas, leads the nation in population growth by person, with the county surrounding Houston adding 89,000 people between July 2013 and 2014, followed by Maricopa County, Arizona, with 74,000 and Los Angeles County with 63,000.
The Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metro area was also the top in metro area numerical increase with 156,371 people added between 2013 and 2014, followed by the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area with a 131,217-person increase and the New York-Newark-Jersey City-Pennsylvania area with a 90,797-person increase.
Texas had four of the fastest-growing metro areas: Austin, Odessa, Midland and Houston. South Carolina had three: Myrtle Beach, Beaufort, and Charleston. Colorado had two: Greeley and Fort Collins.
—California was the nation's most populous state in 2014, with 38.8 million residents. Texas came in second at 27 million.
—Los Angeles County had the nation's largest population among counties with more than 10.1 million people.
—New York was the nation's largest metro area, with about 20.1 million people.
—Williams County, North Dakota, remained the nation's fastest-growing county with a population of more than 10,000 people. It increased by 8.7 percent from 2013 to 2014, followed by Stark County, North Dakota, at 7 percent. Sumter County, home of The Villages, grew at 5.4 percent.
—Detroit was still losing people. Wayne County, Michigan, has the nation's largest numerical decline at just less than 11,000. The next closest county? Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, lost slightly more than 4,000 people.
Holland reported from Washington.
Follow Jesse J. Holland on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland
Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mikeschneiderap
U.S. Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov