A massive senior's community landlocked in the middle of Florida is the nation's fastest-growing metropolitan area, according to new population data for 2014-2015 released by the U.S. Census.
Nationwide, meanwhile, metro areas continued to grow significantly more than rural ones.
The Villages, an expansive planned community of about 51,000 residents that has earned comparisons to Walt Disney World for retirees — and one that has grown to straddle three counties — earned the "fastest-growing" distinction for the third year in a row, the Census reported.
"It basically was the middle of nowhere 30 years ago," notes Tom Burton, a former editor at the development's newspaper, who lives in nearby Lake County.
Since then, the development has continued to expand to the point where there are so many restaurants, retailers, businesses, swimming pools and golf courses — and an estimated 50,000 golf carts, the preferred mode of transport — that "you really don't have to ever leave the property," Burton said of its appeal.
"It's a concentration of retirement immigration," Burton said, noting that some residents there refer to the all-inclusive living as "inside the bubble." Its growth, he added, has come because it offers seniors great familiarity and because it promotes itself as a place where residents get to know their neighbors, with more than 200 social clubs related to sports, politics, even clogging and baton twirling, promising something for nearly everyone.
"It's not uncommon to see groups of 65 -to 75-year-old women out in their spangles marching and twirling in the Christmas parade," Burton described of The Villages's active lifestyle, which has helped it become a go-to destination for retirees seeking space, sun and fun.
Elsewhere in Florida, more people also flocked to sunny beaches on the Southwest Gulf Coast in areas like Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Punta Gorda, North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton and Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, the latest Census data showed. Orlando, home to the real Disney World theme park, along with nearby areas of Kissimmee and Sanford, also saw population gains.
Impressive growth was also seen in Texas. There, four metropolitan areas — Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington along with Austin-Round Rock and San Antonio-New Braunfels — together added more people last year than any state in the country except for Texas as a whole, the Census reported.
Texas saw heightened popularity with a total of eight counties among the nation's Top 20 growth areas, the Census said, including the areas of Midland, Odessa, Austin, College Station-Bryan and Houston.
Three coastal metropolitan areas in South Carolina — Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C., Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort and Charleston-North Charleston — saw heightened growth.
And in North Carolina, the Tar Heel State hit a new milestone, becoming the 9th in the nation to hit 10 million in population. The biggest growth areas in the state were Raleigh, N.C., and Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, N.C.
Migration patterns were clear. More people were gravitating to cities as the economy rebounded and jobs in metropolitan areas were more plentiful. Among the nation's 381 metropolitan areas, 285 saw population gains from 2014 to 2015, an increase of 2.5 million people, the Census noted.
The data also provided good news for outdoor and ski enthusiasts. Four out of the top 20 growth areas were located in areas famed for their mountains: St. George and Provo-Orem, Utah, and Greeley and Fort Collins, Colorado.
Los Angeles continued to lead the nation as the most populous county. It hit the 10.2 million population mark last July, the Census said. Behind Los Angeles at No. 2 was Cook County, Illinois, where population losses were reported for the first time since 2007.
Other population gains from 2014-2015: The highest net domestic in-migration by county was reported in Maricopa, Arizona. In second and third place were Clark County, Nevada and Miami-Dade County, Florida.
Los Angeles led the nation as the county with the highest net international migration, followed by Miami, the Census data showed. Fort Bend, Texas, was the fastest-growing large county while Bailey, Texas, led in growth among the counties with populations between 5,000 and 9,999 people.