Recently released U.S. Census numbers show that Florida’s foreign-born population increased by 140,000 from 2010 through last year. And movement within the United States left Florida with a net gain of 105,000 residents last year and 109,000 in 2012 — 84 percent more than in the previous two years.
The population surge has accelerated this year, according to state estimates, growing at a rate of about 700 new residents a day. That’s a healthy increase, though still less than the big migrations during the Sunbelt boom of past decades.
For many job seekers, South Florida has become a hip beachside destination with a nexus of entrepreneurs, investors, a big consumer market and a gateway to Latin America.
“You are getting a lot of young professionals and a buzz starting to happen down here,” said 23-year-old Shea O’Donnell, who moved in August from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale fresh out of college. She landed a job last week for a new company that promotes a mobile-device app for finding parking.
“When you launch successful startups, it feeds the ecosystem, and that brings in more young professionals and investors,” she said. “So you rock as a community, because you’re putting something back in. There’s a huge potential here.”
Older transplants from the North, frozen in place by the Great Recession, say the recent recovery makes it easier to sell their homes — or come up with enough money to buy a second home — and make that long-awaited move to sunny Florida.
“From a financial standpoint, a year earlier would have been ideal, but we weren’t ready at that time,” said Donna Nahum, 54, of Cherry Hill, N.J., who bought a condo in Boca Raton as a second home. “My husband is in commercial real estate, so we had a few leaner years. I feel like we may not have gotten in on the lowest part of the real estate market in Florida, but we got in while it’s on the rise.”
In the decades following World War II, Florida’s population had been growing by as much as a thousand a day, fueling a construction boom.
But the Florida dream of owning a home in semi-tropical paradise was badly shaken by a sharp rise in property taxes and a batch of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 that raised insurance rates. A housing crisis in 2007, marked by a plunge in home values and widespread foreclosures, led to double-digit unemployment rates, a financial meltdown and the Great Recession.
Immigration from abroad and migrations from the North slowed to a trickle. According to state estimates, Florida gained just 75,000 people from July 2008 through June 2009. Five years later, in the 12 months ending in June 2014, the population shot up by 253,000.
“What you are seeing is pent-up demand,” said Mason Jackson, CEO of CareerSource Broward, a job-placement service. “People are saying, ‘I can move now. I want to go where it’s warm. And I might be able to find a job there more easily than before.'”
A fierce winter in much of the North early this year helped motivate people to follow the traditional pathway to Florida.
“We’re getting a big influx of people from the Northeast again. The harsh winter has really caused a lot of people to re-think where they want to live,” said Kim Bregman, buyer agent for Optima Properties, a real estate and relocation service based in Boca Raton. “And more people are able to work in a virtual [computer-linked] office, so they are able to live here and continue to work regardless of where their main job may be.
“Miami is on fire, and it moves up the coast. People are coming from Brazil, Venezuela, Israel. I just put in an offer, sight-unseen, from an investor in China. The world still sees Florida real estate as a good investment.”
Partly as a result, the state’s foreign-born population reached 3.8 million in 2013, a 140,000 increase from 2010, according to a compilation of census numbers by the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocacy group in Washington.
“The high [tourist] season is coming, so people are hiring now, in hotels and resorts, in the kitchen and housekeeping,” said Sandro Cristian Arotinco, 37, who moved from Peru in January and got a job this month as a chef at a Fort Lauderdale beach resort.
“We are not rich,” he said, “but are living in a nice way.”
All these trends have made it possible for Florida to resume its traditional role as a magnet for people who seek warm weather and a leisurely lifestyle.
“When the weekends come, it’s like vacation — palm trees and a beach,” said O’Donnell, the transplant from drizzly Seattle. “I’m not used to that. I think I’m adjusting just fine.”