In the Know: Fort Myers, North Port, Sarasota top 2021 destinations for incoming moves. Who are these people?
New data out this week shows the Fort Myers, North Port and Sarasota areas among the nation's top destinations for folks moving in 2021.
U-Haul compiles the information from its one-way rentals and annually does a Top 25 list, which shows its Fort Myers-North Fort Myers market at No. 6, North Port No. 4 and Sarasota-Bradenton No. 10. At the top: Kissimmee-St. Cloud, among 10 Sunshine State communities making the cut. Texas had five.
“Florida has always been a destination location for retirees, but more so (in 2021), I think a lot of people took early retirements and decided to come down,” said Mario Martinez, U-Haul area district vice president of southern Florida. “There are many other reasons why people are coming to Florida, and have come in previous years. We have lower cost (of living) than other states. There is no state income tax – that’s a huge factor."
But it's not just that higher age bracket any more.
There's "the huge influx of people that now come to Florida, not to retire but to continue to work or to work when they couldn't work where they were," said Bill Steinke, president for Lee County-based Royal Palm Coast Realtor Association, also known as RPCRA.
Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons real estate appraiser and broker Matt Simmons has noticed it as well, and "it’s not just more people.
"It’s more people within a specific demographic that Southwest Florida has previously struggled to attract," said Simmons, a managing partner. "The pandemic, for multiple reasons, has driven a much higher percentage of working professionals to our region. White collar jobs are statistically far more likely to have work-from-home flexibility so we’re seeing a major shift in how much that demographic is contributing to our growth."
Janeth Castrejon, who just left CareerSource Southwest Florida for a communications role at Florida Gulf Coast University, has shared similar observations with me.
"We're talking about states like New York, Chicago, the big hubs. They're coming from all those big hubs to more pleasant weather, living in paradise and also with the remote capabilities," Castrejon said. "There's quite a bit of migration from Northeast states moving to Southwest Florida."
'Fundamental shift' in SWFL growth
Simmons told me he doesn't expect a fade out.
"There’s been a fundamental shift in the growth of Southwest Florida," he said. "In most respects, the pandemic has been an accelerator of existing trends far more than a creator of new ones. This migration of working professionals into Southwest Florida is a good example of that. Residents within that demographic also have higher levels of disposable income, which creates even more opportunity within the local economy."
And Simmons said folks are going to keep coming in big numbers to boost the current 1.4 million or so in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.
"Growth projections anticipate 1.057 million Lee; 517,000 Collier and 233,000 Charlotte residents by 2045. I’m predicting that all three of those figures will be off significantly," he said, before referring to one of my favorite quotes from a late former resident. "Thomas Edison said, 'There is only one Fort Myers in the United States, and there are 90 million people who are going to find it out.' Tom was right."
What did Edison see early on, before most discovered the area? One invention that wasn't his but came from Willis H. Carrier certainly played a role. Restaurateur Grant Phelan had joked about it with me as he noticed more snowbirds and others transitioning to year-round and helping keep his eateries busy during what had been the normally slower summer months.
"It's really good if you're in the air conditioning business, right?" said the Phelan Family Brands CEO, who leads nearly 20 venues including Pinchers.
And there are other obvious pluses that U-Haul's Martinez pointed out.
"The warm weather. Basically, we have summer weather all year long. Attractions. Our beaches. The activities. There’s just so much to do," Martinez said. "This state has kept on going, and (2021) has just been busy all the way around.”
'Singing the same song'
It goes deeper for Phelan, who like Simmons and me, grew up here, and noted the many homegrown and newcomer professionals and leaders in the medical, legal, government, education and service industry sectors.
"Other communities sometimes, they don't have the ability to build things as fast as we do," Phelan said. "To have the vision of what an area can become if you put the right infrastructure in. Southwest Florida has definitely done an amazing job and continues to, I feel. Just look at the college. Look at FGCU, and what's happened there. The airport, I mean, that tiny little thing to where it is today with all those international flights coming in."
Southwest Florida International Airport has been one of the many avenues helping to diversify the area, including with Latinos.
"This is the largest minority group that's going to continue to grow in Southwest Florida," said Castrejon, formerly of Panama. "I'm an immigrant myself, and I still have a lot of family and friends who migrated here."
As In the Know has addressed in previous columns and will continue to do so in the future, the ramifications are mighty no matter the origination point in the world or nation for the region's newest residents.
The high demand for housing and the supply line challenges are just a couple, according to the Royal Palm group's Steinke.
"You go back to Finance 101 from school, and supply and demand drives much of any business. Here in Florida, we were on a relative trend of building new homes that kind of matched the influx of people into the area," said Steinke, a participant in his association's podcasts. "Between the homes that become vacant and the homes that can be built by builders, there had been a pretty good equilibrium there for quite awhile."
Now, it's going to be a long time before it's steady as you go.
"We just don't think we're going to be there for a couple of years," Steinke said, similar to what some national and state economists, Realtor associations and construction groups are saying. "They're all singing the same song. My guess it's probably true."
U-Haul's Top 25
1. Kissimmee-St. Cloud
2. Raleigh-Durham, NC
3. Palm Bay-Melbourne
4. North Port
5 .Madison, WI
6. Fort Myers-North Fort Myers
7. College Station-Bryan, TX
8. Sacramento-Roseville, CA
11. Daytona Beach
12. San Diego, CA
13. Port St. Lucie
14. Milwaukee, WI
15. Grapevine, TX
16. Austin, TX
17. Myrtle Beach, SC
18. Surprise, AZ
20. Wilmington, NC
21. Denver, CO
22. Richardson, TX
23. Auburn-Opelika, AL
25. Carrollton, TX
Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (email@example.com) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.