Counties grapple with rapid growth
By MATTHEW WAITE, Times Staff Writer
Two decades ago, David Haas almost wished that Flagler County's 9,200 residents would not have to share their slice of Florida with anyone else.
"We kind of had the beach to ourself," Haas said this week.
But the county administrator knows all too well that Flagler isn't a secret.
U.S. Census population estimates released today show that Flagler County was the fifth-fastest growing county in the nation between 2001 and 2002. According to the Census Bureau, Flagler grew by 6.9 percent, or more than 3,700 residents. More than 57,000 people now live in the county.
Florida had 11 counties among the 100 fastest growing counties in the nation during that year, trailing only Georgia and Texas.
The Florida counties on the top 100 list: Flagler (5), Sumter (28), Osceola (35), Lake (46), St. Johns (49), Santa Rosa (51), Collier (54), Clay (68), Lee (95), St. Lucie (99) and Pasco (100).
There are three common elements: All have relatively small populations, are near major cities and have plenty of room to grow.
"(Residents) can still commute in if they want to work," said Scott Cody, a research demographer with the Florida Bureau of Business and Economic Research. "And it's just cheaper available land."
Other fast-growing counties outside Florida have similar characteristics.
The nation's fastest growing county is Rockwall County in Texas. Slightly smaller than Flagler County, Rockwall is a rapidly growing suburb outside Dallas.
Loudon County, Va., the second-fastest growing county, is in suburban Washington, D.C. Henry and Forsyth counties in Georgia -- No. 3 and No. 4 on the list -- are in suburban Atlanta.
Large population growth continues in the South, especially in suburban areas outside major cities. From 1990 to 2000, the South grew by 14.8-million residents, topping 100-million people living in an area generally bounded by Maryland to the north and Texas to the west, the Census Bureau reported.
Of the 100 fastest growing counties in the nation between 2001 and 2002, 63 are in the South. Only two are in the northeast.
And growth doesn't appear to be slowing. Cody said Florida's growth rate since 2000 -- 4.5 percent according to estimates -- has the state on pace to grow about the same rate this decade as it did in the 1990s: 23.5 percent.
Demographers warn the numbers are just estimates. They use a combination of factors -- births, deaths, immigration estimates, building permits, electricity customers -- to make their best guess on how much the population has grown.
They don't often agree.
For instance, Pasco County, the fastest growing Tampa Bay area county, grew 3.5 percent between July 1, 2001, and July 1, 2002, the Census Bureau estimated. According to state estimates, the county grew 2.6 percent between April 1, 2001, and April 1, 2002.
Other bay area Census county growth estimates were Citrus at 2 percent, Hernando at 2.9 percent, Hillsborough and Manatee at 2.9 percent, and Pinellas at 0.2 percent.
The pace of growth in Flagler isn't new in the county. Flagler was the fastest growing county in the state during the past decade, growing 74 percent in 10 years. The population boom, according to Flagler officials and census data, was largely fueled by retirees moving to new beach and golf course communities.
Haas said the county expects growth to continue. The county's elected officials are meeting on growth issues, and there are plans to build public projects to accommodate the growth.
The size of the growth has to be kept in perspective, Haas said. While Flagler grew by about 3,700 people, Volusia County just to the north added twice as many residents. But Volusia grew 1.7 percent compared to Flagler's 6.9 percent.
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