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Population growth continues to stagger

TONY HOLT Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 10, 2013 at 12:49 PM

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The housing collapse has had a substantial effect on population growth in Hernando County and across Florida.

After all the years of planning and preparation for continued development, at least one local politician thinks Hernando is ready for the next boom.

County Commissioner Dave Russell said the slumping housing market might have dampened expectations for some, but he thinks significant year-to-year growth is still going to happen somewhere down the line.

"We are geared for that," he said. "We've done more than an adequate job of preparing for it ... We've already anticipated more significant growth than we've experienced to this point so we're ahead of the curve."

The Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida released data this month that show how significantly population numbers have sputtered in Hernando and elsewhere.

Numbers reveal a sudden slowdown in the number of people moving to the area in 2009 and this year.

"Obviously one thing is the economy and the other thing is the housing boom and then the bust," said BEBR demographer Scott Cody. "It takes a while to recover from something like that."

The bureau has tracked population data since the 2000 census. Hernando saw growth in the thousands each year through 2007.

Its biggest jump of the decade was from April 2005 to April 2006, when the county's population rose from 143,497 to 149,676 - an increase of 6,179.

The next two years' population grew another 5,200 and 2,384, respectively. By April 2009, the year-to-year increase dropped to 148, according to BEBR.

"A lot of people were coming down to Florida because so many houses were being built," said Cody.

He said Florida's growth is about 85 percent migration. The recession caused much of that to subside during the past two years.

"There was a hit in the stock market and people couldn't retire or people had houses they couldn't sell," said Cody.

Werner Fornos is a population expert who gives speeches around the country about rapid growth and its effects on the environment, security and health.

He owns property in Florida.

Fornos said the state's sluggish population growth won't increase much in the near future "because people are not moving."

Families and soon-to-be retirees up north are staying in their homes largely because of the crash in the real estate market.

"People who want to move to Florida need to sell their homes and right now those homes aren't selling," Fornos said.

He predicted "very little movement" in the state's population numbers during the next few years.

Additionally, Cody said the robust numbers from a few years ago might have been exaggerated. When those estimates were made, the housing industry was riding a wave. It might have been difficult to come up with an accurate count of new residents because of the speed in which the new houses were being built, he said.

The recession might cause a number of people to face their futures differently and make safer decisions, but overall Cody expects Florida's population growth to recover. He offered no timetable.

He thinks Florida still remains a desirable destination for those approaching retirement age.

"We're expecting the slowdown to eventually go away," he said. "The assumption is that we will kick out of this."

Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or

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