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    Hillsborough: 35.1 years young

    Newly released census data bears out the county's history. It is the 12th youngest among the state's 67 counties.

    By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 24, 2002


    TAMPA -- Unlike many places in Florida, Tampa has never been a retirement haven.

    It's just been flanked by them.

    Statistics released Thursday by the U.S. Census underscore the status of Tampa and Hillsborough County as working-age communities younger than the national average, surrounded by counties that are significantly older.

    In a state where Social Security checks reach a third of all households, they come to only a fourth in Hillsborough, Thursday's numbers show.

    Hillsborough's median age is the 12th youngest among Florida's 67 counties. Younger counties primarily are in rural North Florida and the Orlando area. In terms of age, Hillsborough County is more akin to the rest of the United States than the rest of Florida.

    All that makes it a prime test area for marketers trying to appeal to young consumers, said David Beattie, president of Hamilton Beattie & Staff, a Washington, D.C., public opinion research firm.

    It also means that Hillsborough voters are likelier to be concerned about jobs, transportation and schools than voters in retiree-heavy communities with a less direct stake in such issues, Beattie said.

    Tampa's distinctions from the rest of Florida reach back more than a century, when the safe harbor of Tampa Bay attracted ships and industry that bypassed other Florida cities.

    Sawmills lined the Hillsborough River by the 1870s, and cigar factories were filling out Ybor City by the 1890s, said Florida historian Canter Brown Jr.

    "When other areas of Florida had to begin depending on tourists and the elderly, Tampa didn't," Brown said.

    An industrialized port city probably was less attractive to retirees, experts said.

    "St. Pete was more laid back, more accommodating, closer to the coast," said Larry Polivka, director of the Florida Policy Center on Aging at the University of South Florida. "It was the city of green benches."

    "It was on the water, and that was a strong, strong attraction for retirees," said Ken Plonski, spokesman for WCI Communities, owner of Hillsborough's sole major retirement development, Sun City Center.

    Plonski also suggested -- in all modesty -- that the 12,000-acre Sun City Center, launched in 1962, was a daunting competitor for other would-be developers of retirement communities in Hillsborough.

    Charles Longino of Wake Forest University, an expert on retiree migration, said big cities like Tampa naturally attract young people and deter retirees.

    "Retirees often want to move to places with less traffic, crime and hassle . . . but near to cities where they can exercise their urban tastes on day trips," Longino wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "They like having access to an international airport, and to good shopping, restaurants and entertainments, but would rather live a couple of hours away, if possible."

    On the other hand, young adults seek out cities for the concentrations of jobs and schools, Longino said.

    Brown, the historian, said Interstate 75 helped shape the demographics of Tampa.

    "What it offers is almost a drain of young people out of the Midwest, and young people want to get out of the Midwest," he said.

    -- Bill Coats can be reached at 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

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