By Dale White
Staff Writer For Herald Tribune
Sarasota and Manatee counties rank as the 10th fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States, new census data shows.The Sarasota-Manatee area saw its overall population expand from 768,013 to 788,457 — a boost of 20,444 residents, more than enough to populate a small city.
Punta Gorda, more than a decade after Hurricane Charley, ranked even higher on that list, at eighth.
The U.S. Census Bureau today released population updates for the period from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016, during which the nation’s population increased from more than 321.4 million to more than 323.1 million. On the bureau’s latest list of the “top 25 fasting-growing metro areas,” 10 are in Florida, including Sarasota and Manatee counties, anchored by the cities of Sarasota, Bradenton and North Port.
With the highest percentage growth, at 4.3 percent, and 5,111 new residents, The Villages in Florida ranked No. 1 in the nation and in the state. Although it attracted more newcomers, with 5,271, Punta Gorda ranked as the next-fastest growing behind The Villages, with 3 percent growth. It took the No. 8 spot on the national list.
With 2.7 percent growth, the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton region claimed the No. 10 spot in the “fasting-growing” rankings and ranked as the third-fastest growing in Florida.
The Sarasota-Manatee area saw its overall population expand from 768,013 to 788,457 — a boost of 20,444 residents, more than enough to populate a small city.
That growth can be attributed mostly to “domestic migration” from other areas and states, given that deaths (9,772) far exceeded births (6,545) during the year. Another 2,225 newcomers in the bi-county area migrated from other nations.
The figures indicate a sustained comeback from the Great Recession, when population in the area stagnated or even declined. In 2007, when the economy here was plunging, the census counted 372,073 people in Sarasota County. By the next year, that count dropped to 372,057 and, in 2009, to 369,375.
During that same period, Manatee continued to see more residents, but the gains were modest. In 2007, the census reported 315,108 Manatee residents. The next year, Manatee added just 658 people. In 2009, Manatee’s population grew by 2,595 residents, significantly more but not close to the 10,000 or so seen annually the past few years.
In comparison, the latest figures show Manatee County with 363,369 people and Sarasota with 405,549.
Although she acknowledges that growth can bring challenges, Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac regards this area’s No. 10 spot on the “fasting growing” list as proof that people consider this region desirable. New and relocating employers, baby boomer retirees and others are attracted by the quality of life, she said.
“On a (sunny) day like this, they visit and they think ‘What an incredible place to live,'” Benac said. “It’s definitely good news that our environment is still attracting people who want to live the Florida dream. Anyone who lives in an area with a downturn in growth would rather be in our shoes.”
Local governments and groups have invested significantly in the area parks, schools, arts and social services that are important to many people, said Christine Robinson, executive director of the Argus Foundation and a former Sarasota County commissioner.
Robinson’s parents are among the influx of new residents, moving here last month to be with family and for the “qualify of life” factors.
“We’ve made some key investments in quality of life and now we’re getting to reap the reward,” she said.
“They’re coming whether you like it or not,” she added. “We can’t throw up gates at the end of the county. We can either prepare for it and accommodate the growth and keep our high quality of life or we could stick our head in the sand and pretend.”
As would be expected, the census figures show this region’s success in catering to an older population more than most American communities. While 22.9 percent of the nation’s population is younger than 18, only 14.7 percent of Sarasota-Manatee’s population falls in that category.
And while 14.9 percent of the nation’s population is 65 or older, 34.6 percent fit into that age bracket in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area.
Overall, Sarasota and Manatee counties’ populations are getting even older. In the 2010 census, Sarasota County had a median age of 52.5. By 2015, its median age was 54. In the 2010 census, Manatee County had a median age of 45.7. By 2015, its median age was 46.7.
According to 2015 data included in the report, the median ages in area cities were: Sarasota, 45.9; Venice, 67.4; Longboat Key, 70.8; North Port, 44; and Bradenton, 42.5.
The region shows fewer minorities in terms of percentages compared with the bureau’s nationwide snapshot.
Nationally, the population is 61.6 percent “white alone, not Hispanic or Latino,” 13.3 percent “black or African-American alone” and 17.6 Hispanic or Latino. For Sarasota County, those percentages are 83.5 percent (“white alone”), 4.9 percent (black) and 8.8 percent (Hispanic or Latino). For Manatee County, the percentages are 71.8 percent (“white alone”), 9.3 percent (black) and 16 percent (Hispanic or Latino).
The bureau counted 175,185 households in Sarasota County averaging 2.2 people in each. It counted 134,725 households in Manatee County averaging 2.5 people in each.
In Sarasota County, 13.1 percent of households spoke a language other than English at home, with 16.3 percent doing the same in Manatee and 21 percent nationwide.
Lower median incomes
While the median household income (in 2015 dollars) came to $53,889 nationwide, it was less in Sarasota County ($51,766) and Manatee ($49,675).
Of the 155,023 employees at least age 16 in Sarasota County, 35,275 were in “service occupations” that included health care support, food preparation and serving, building and grounds maintenance and protective service such as law enforcement. Of Manatee County’s 140,416 jobs, 29,416 were considered “service occupations.”
As of 2015, 14.8 percent of Manatee residents and 9.7 percent of Sarasota County residents were considered in poverty, compared with the nationwide figure of 13.5 percent.
Not all areas of the nation have experienced population growth in recent years. According to the Census Bureau, Cook County, Illinois, led the nation in population decline between July 1, 2015, and July 1, 2016. Its number of residents dropped 21,324 to more than 5.2 million.
Other areas with declining populations include: Wayne County, Michigan; Baltimore, Maryland; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Suffolk County, New York; Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; San Juan County, New Mexico; St. Louis, Missouri; and Jefferson County, New York.
Sarasota County data
Median age: 54
Persons younger than 5: 3.7 percent
Persons 65 and older: 34.6 percent
Persons in poverty: 9.7 percent
Minority-owned firms (as of 2012): 5,731
Veteran-owned firms (as of 2012): 4,487
Housing units: 232,623
Owner-occupied homes: 73 percent
Median value of an owner-occupied home: $181,400
Monthly cost of an owner-occupied home with a mortgage: $1,404
Without a mortgage: $520
Manatee County data
Median age: 46.7
Persons younger than 5: 4.9 percent
Persons 65 and older: 25.9 percent
Persons in poverty: 14.8 percent
Minority-owned firms (as of 2012): 6,555
Veteran-owned firms (as of 2012): 3,250
Housing units: 182,119
Owner-occupied homes: 69.8 percent
Median value of an owner-occupied home: $169,000
Monthly cost of an owner-occupied home with a mortgage: $1,503
Without a mortgage: $481
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau
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