Do stats show Florida's allure dimming?
Three major moving companies are taking more people out of the state than into it.
By DONNA WINCHESTER and IVAN PENN
Published January 26, 2007
For the first time in years, three of the nation's largest moving companies say they're transporting more customers out of Florida than into it.
In 2006, what the industry calls "outbound" moves actually surpassed "inbounds," according to data from United, Atlas and Allied van lines. The industry had seen a steady increase in the number of customers heading out of the state in the past five years.
Florida still had an overall increase in residents. But the newly released statistics may corroborate what economists have been predicting for some time: Higher insurance, utilities and property taxes are conspiring to make Florida less attractive for some residents.
"Many people who would have moved here in the past are now opting for Georgia and the Carolinas," said Mark Vitner, senior economist for Wachovia Bank. "Some Floridians are moving to Georgia and the Carolinas as well."
The Virginia-based company that tracks data for the nation's moving companies won't release 2006 statistics until April. But a look at the difference in inbound and outbound Florida moves from 2004 to 2005 indicates a trend among the top 11 companies, said Mary Scott, spokeswoman for the American Moving and Storage Association.
In 2004, 61,496 shipments came into the state and 43,372 left, Scott said. About the same number came into the state in 2005, Scott said, but 57,188 shipments left.
"The warm-weather states like Florida, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona have traditionally been inbound states," Scott said. "The question would be, why would people want to leave one of those states? Did something go kerflewie in Florida?"
Last year's decline in the national housing market could have played a part, said Jim Dewey, director of the economic analysis program at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.
Homeowners in the Northeast who had trouble selling their homes couldn't afford to move, Dewey said. In addition, the spike in house prices in the last five years in Florida has made coming here less of a bargain.
"It wouldn't be a surprise to me that there is a temporary slow down," he said. "Real estate here has gone way up."
The downward trend in "inbound" customers might be attributed to a decline in the number of people using, or who can afford, moving companies.
U-Haul, which provides trucks and trailers for less expensive "do-it-yourself" moves, helped more families move into the state than move out in 2006, according to information provided by company spokeswoman Ashley Wagner.
Whatever the reason, Florida remains a popular destination for many people, Dewey said.
In fact, Florida is second only to Texas in the number of new residents and remains the fourth-most-populous state with 18.1-million residents, according to Census Bureau figures released in December.
Yet it's unclear how many of the 321,697 residents who were added to the state's rolls in 2006 moved here from somewhere else.
The socioeconomic status of the newcomers, as well as those who are leaving the state, also is unclear.
The moving company statistics seem to indicate that those who are leaving are likely to be middle- and upper-middle class individuals who can afford moving vans, Dewey said. They also could be families with children who are unhappy with the state's funding for K-12 education, he said.
Department of Education statistics appear to support Dewey's hunch. While state enrollment has grown an average of 51,000 students annually since 1989, regular enrollment in 2005 grew by only about 30,000 children.
The numbers were down again at the start of the 2006 school year, even in districts with normally climbing enrollment such as Orange, Manatee and Palm Beach.
In Pinellas, the decline in student enrollment was nearly twice what the district expected. The decreases were less pronounced in mid county, which has more affordable housing for young families. "In the short term, we'll have the luxury of having nice facilities with plenty of rooms for programs and students," said Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. "But sooner or later, we'll face the issue of having to close some facilities."
Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, said it's no exaggeration to say Florida is at a crisis point. "You're always going to have the weather attracting people, and it's still a very business friendly environment," Brown said. "But it's a difficult issue. It's a very serious concern for Florida."
Leaving the Sunshine State
The number of customers who used one of the country's three largest moving companies to move their possessions into and out of Florida for the past three years.
UNITED VAN LINES
2006 16,212 17,019
2005 18,601 15,726
2004 20,455 13,673
ATLAS VAN LINES
2006 6,716 7,994
2005 8,579 8,256
2004 9,069 7,180
ALLIED VAN LINES
2006 6,953 8,894
2005 9,385 9,300
2004 10,722 8,987
Sources: Unigroup, Atlas World Group, Serva