Florida: A State of Change

Volume 13, Number 2
Second Quarter 2011

With its miles of sandy beaches, palm trees, and warm climate, Florida has been a favorite destination for tourists and new residents alike. The state has enjoyed steady population gains since the mid-twentieth century, making it the nation's fourth most populous state by the year 2000.

FloridaHealthy population growth also has been a boon to Florida's economy, powering its construction and real estate sectors and helping to fund state and local government coffers, says staff writer Lela Somoza in "Florida: A State of Change," featured in the second-quarter issue of EconSouth.

However, Florida's reliance on population-driven growth has been more of a liability than an asset in recent years as population growth slowed significantly. After increasing 33 percent in the 1980s and 24 percent in the 1990s, the state's population grew only 18 percent in the recent decade from 2000 to 2010, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. While many states might envy that figure, the seemingly smooth growth over the decade masks more volatile swings on a year-to-basis, explains Somoza. For instance, at the height of the housing boom from 2004 to 2006, the state gained well over 300,000 residents a year. In comparison, Florida welcomed fewer than 200,000 new residents in 2007 and 2008. And in 2009, demographers even estimated that the state had lost residents, prompting dire predictions of Florida's impending collapse.

Though newly revised estimates from the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research show that the state actually gained about 73,000 residents during that period, it still marks the smallest increase in population since the 1940s. Importantly, the drastic slowdown in population growth has prompted Florida's leaders and economic developers to rethink the state's economic growth strategy, which has traditionally been to "sit back and wait for people to come," says Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness.

One strategy that is already underway involves efforts to attract high-tech and advanced industries to the state. For example, several regions throughout the state are building biotech and life science hubs, among others. Despite recent gains in these initiatives, the states still faces considerable challenges, Somoza writes.

Most demographers expect the Florida's population to rebound, but gradually and perhaps not to its prior levels. Still, there is cause for optimism. The Sunshine State still has its traditional assets—sandy beaches and a warm climate—working in its favor. Additionally, the state has a new asset to boast about. According to a 2011 Wells Fargo report, the state ranked first in the nation for regional competitiveness.

To learn more about Florida's challenging demographic trends, read the full story online.