Boom To Grow: Volusia, Flagler among nation’s fastest-growing areas

If it seems more crowded in local stores and on the roadways in Flagler and Volusia counties, it is. According to just-released data by the U.S. Census Bureau, the two counties are among the nation’s fastest-growing, with a combined population increase of 14,296 between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016. The Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach metropolitan statistical area — which includes Flagler County — was among the 25-fastest growing metro areas in the country during the July 2015-July 2016 time frame, joining eight other Florida communities on the Census Bureau list.

The population in Volusia County increased 2.2 percent to 529,364 while Flagler County boasted a 3-percent gain to 108,310 residents, according to the Census Bureau release. The Villages topped the Census Bureau list for the fourth year in a row, posting a 4.3 percent increase in population. Other Florida communities making the Top 25 are Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Punta Gorda, Lakeland-Winter Haven, Sebastian-Vero Beach, Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Port St. Lucie and Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island.

Jason DeLorenzo, government affairs director at the Flagler Home Builders Association, said population growth is one of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry. “We’re definitely not building enough housing for our anticipated population growth,” he said.  Coincidentally, DeLorenzo spoke to the Flagler County Economic Opportunity Advisory Council on Wednesday about the impact of population growth. Flagler County saw a 35 percent increase in new single-family permit activity in 2016, compared to the previous year, he said. And while the 770 houses built in the county in 2016 had an overall local economic impact of $84.5 million, that would provide new housing opportunities for 1,771 residents, based on a metric of 2.3 people per home constructed. “That doesn’t get us anywhere close to where we’re going to need to be,” DeLorenzo said.

The story is much the same in Volusia County, where home builders are struggling with a skilled labor shortage and rising demand. “When we were at last year’s pace or the year before, we could keep up, no problem,” said Paul Rechichar, owner of Platinum Home Builders in Port Orange and president-elect of the Volusia Building Industry Association. “The last eight to 12 months, the demand has increased and our subcontractors are trying to gear up their companies.”  Rechichar said more people moving to the area has an impact on the construction industry. “We do see as the population increases, we really can’t get them out of the ground and get them built quickly enough,” he said. “Our spec homes, most of the time, we have them sold before they are finished.”

University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said he is not surprised Florida had so many areas on the fastest-growing list. He said the increase in population helps spur an already rising state economy.  “It’s good news as far as the state’s economy is concerned for those fast-growing metro areas,” he said. “You have this virtuous cycle that seems to be going on right now, where Florida’s economy has been doing well and at the same time, faster population growth will reinforce stronger growth of Florida’s economy.”

Rose Roberts, president of the Daytona Beach Area Association of Realtors, said she is also not surprised by the Census Bureau report. She says the population growth is evident by new development that’s moved to the area in recent years: Tanger Outlets mall, the One Daytona project, a proposed Jimmy Buffett retirement community, new beachside condominiums, to name a few. That kind of development “doesn’t come to an area unless it’s thriving,” Roberts said.

However, Realtors such as Roberts can also easily recognize the growth by one of its consequences. There are more people looking to move here than there are homes available. “It’s a sellers’ market right now,” the Remax Realtor said. To put it in perspective, look at Ormond Beach. One subdivision, Breakaway Trails, contains 914 total houses. Ormond Beach, citywide, has 419 homes on the market, less than half of that one subdivision. Countywide, there are 1,458 homes on the market.  “That’s not a high number,” said Bill Navarra, a realtor with Realty Pros. “We are definitely hitting a lack of inventory issue.” However, Navarra added that it’s “exciting that our area is finally being found.” DeLorenzo at the Flagler HBA said inventory is also an issue in Flagler County. “The last I heard inventory is like four months or less,” he said. “That’s a sellers market.”

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