Have golf cart, will travel. At least to The Villages.
The retirement community in central Florida famous for its souped-up golf carts once again was the nation's fastest growing metro area, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
It was the third year in a row that the community of 119,000 residents had gotten the title of "fastest-growing" with a growth rate of 4.3 percent from July 2014 to July 2015.
"Unlike a lot of counties, that growth has not come with a lot of grief and bloodshed,” said Sumter County Commissioner Garry Breeden. "We've managed to have that growth, without really conflicts, and being able to maintain for the folks that want the rural lifestyle and the folks that want the urban lifestyle, to have both of those in our county and have them interact in a really good way."
Most of the growth came from retirees moving to the community located northwest of Orlando, and 99 percent of the migration was from people who already live in the United States, according to the Census figures.
"The majority are folks that are reaching that age, and retiring, and moving to The Villages," Breeden said. "And along with that comes everything from the medical community to all the services industry that support people."
Breeden said The Villages includes a small part of Sumter County, and said businesses outside of the retirement development have expanded as well.
"It's exciting to hear we are No. 1 again," said Sue Kelly, executive director of the Lady Lake Chamber Commerce in adjacent Lady Lake, Fla.
Kelly, who moved to the area in 1988, remembers when the area didn't even have a stop light, most people found jobs in other communities miles away and agriculture dominated the area. Now, the community has major chain restaurants, a hospital and locals can find work nearby. The area also has plenty of stoplights now for cars and golf carts, which are a dominant form of transportation in the golf-course saturated The Villages.
"Every time we turn around, we have something new," Kelly said. "We have become a community. We were always a community, but we were just a little village."
Two other Florida metro areas were among the 10 fastest-growing cities in the United States in the past year. Cape Coral-Fort Myers had a growth rate of 3.3 percent, and Punta Gorda grew by 2.8 percent.
More than an eighth of the growth from migration in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area came from outside the United States, and the rest came from domestic migration. The metro area now stands at 702,000 residents.
Ninety-five percent of the migration growth in Punta Gorda in the past year came from domestic residents, and the rest came from people living outside the United States. Its population now stands at 173,000 residents.
Two Florida metro areas had among the nation's the largest population gains in pure numbers, not rates. South Florida grew by more than 75,000 residents, and metro Orlando gained an extra 60,000 residents. They were respectfully the 7th and 10th biggest gains in the nation. In Orlando, more than a third of the migration growth came from outside the United States. In South Florida, all the migration growth came from outside the United States since the metro area actually lost U.S.-born residents.
Census figures show that South Florida surpassed 6 million residents for the first time. It's the nation's eighth biggest metro area.
Nancy Stroud, a Boca Raton lawyer whose practice focuses on land use, said the milestone strengthens the need for smart growth and protections for the environment in South Florida.
"That means better funding and respect for the value of planning and regulation, including from the state level," Stroud said.