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Gulf Coast growth to outpace state

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  • | 8:10 p.m. July 1, 2011
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State population experts predict the population of the Gulf Coast from Pasco to Collier counties will grow from the 2010 Census figure of roughly 4.4 million to more than 6.3 million by 2040, though the rate of growth will steadily decelerate.

That growth of 1.9 million represents a 42.8% increase, topping the state's 38.7% population growth rate projected for the next 30-year period. The Gulf Coast's share of the state's population will move up from 23.5% of Florida's 2010 population of 18.8 million to 26% of 26.1 million by 2040. The state grew by 2.8 million residents during the past decade, an increase of 17.6%.

Population analysts at the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, or BEBR, project that Hillsborough County's population will grow the most of the eight Gulf Coast counties. They predict a rise of 607,474 during the course of the next three decades. That figure also makes the county the third-biggest gainer behind Orange County, up 669,544; and Miami-Dade, up 653,765.

But the data shows Lee County growing the fastest of Gulf Coast counties, increasing by 75.6% from 2010 to 2040. With a gain of nearly 468,000 residents that puts the county at more than 1 million. By 2030, Lee County's population will pass Pinellas County's, which is projected to slowly decline. For Lee County, the percentage increase to 2040 ranks it as the sixth-highest county growth rate among the state's 67 counties.

Flagler County, in northeast Florida, is projected to grow the quickest — 125.1% from 2010 to 2040, spurred by the growth of the Palm Coast development. Other counties rounding out the top five fastest growers are Sumter (121.7%), St. Johns (98.7%), Osceola (96.3%) and St. Lucie (83.8%).

Pasco County also ranks among the biggest and fastest growers during the 30-year timeframe. The study projects the county to add 307,703 residents, the seventh most of any county. That represents a 66% rise from the 2010 population of 464,697, which makes Pasco the 10th-fastest grower among the state's counties and second fastest among the Gulf Coast group.

That amount of growth for Pasco might be low based on recent past experience with the bureau's projections, according to Richard Gehring, the county's growth management administrator. “As we approached the Census, BEBR was saying 430,000,” Gehring recalls. “The Census number came in at 464,000.”

Nevertheless, BEBR predicts the pace of growth for Gulf Coast counties will decline during each of the next three decades. For example, even Lee County's growth rate will slide from a 26% increase from 2010 to 2020, to 20.9% rise from 2020 to 2030, and then drop off to just 15.3% from 2030 to 2040. That pattern is consistent across the state.

The larger growth rates for the 2010 to 2020 decade may be uneven, and off to a relatively slow start, according to Stan Smith, director of BEBR.

“The collapse of the housing market and the lingering effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s are likely to keep the state's population growth at relatively low levels for another year or two,” says Smith in a press release. “We expect growth to increase thereafter, reaching levels more in line with historical patterns by the middle of the decade. For many counties, however, future increases are likely to be smaller than those occurring during the last several decades.”

Click here for a look at population change projections for Gulf Coast counties.


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