Panama City – The Panama City metropolitan area was the 19th-fastest growing metro in the United States last year, according to new population estimates released by the Census Bureau this week.
Panama City joined six other Florida metros in the nation’s top 20-growing metro areas between July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014. The villages south of Ocala was the nation’s fastest-growing metro for the second year in a row.
Other Florida metros on the list include Cape Coral-Fort Meyers (sixth), Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island (10th), Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (16th) and North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton (18th).
The Panama City metro area includes Bay and Gulf counties, according to the Census Bureau. The metro area grew almost 2.2 percent – or 4,158 people – between July 2013 and July 2014, according to the Census Bureau estimates.
Carol Roberts, president of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce, said the new numbers show a growing desire to move to the coast, toward a warmer climate and a more business-friendly environment.
“The state of Florida is a force to be reckoned with,” Roberts said. “We’ve gotten more and more competitive to make ourselves more attractive – not only to individuals, but to companies alike.”
Roberts cited the community’s growth as a positive, pointing toward additional manpower to meet local workforce needs. However, she also said local officials will face a challenge to update roads and other infrastructure to meet the needs of the growing community.
“We have to continue to work to provide adequate infrastructure to meet those growth needs,” Roberts said. “Bay County has fared very well as far as funding for roads and highways, but it’s something we have to continue to monitor to meet those future needs.”
Teresa Dyer, president of the Bay County Association of Realtors (BCAR), said the statistics make sense when paired with the happenings of the local real estate market.
“We have seen a good increase of people moving here, and we’ll probably see even more when school gets out this summer,” said Dyer, who cited growth in areas like Panama City Beach, Lynn Haven and Callaway.
According to data from BCAR’s Multiple Listing Service, the number of closed sales for single-family homes was up 14 percent last year, with a total of 2,556. The figure has been on the uptick in Bay County since 2010.
“As far as some neighborhoods, it came to a halt when the economy changed, but now it’s starting back up,” Dyer said. “So far, this year has been really good.”
Although there were more deaths than births in Florida over the last year, migration to the Sunshine State was heavy enough for the population to increase to almost 20 million to surpass New York as the third most populous state in the country.
“Florida’s ascension, revealed when the 2014 state population estimates were released last December, was a significant demographic milestone for our country,” Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson said in a news release. “These county and metro area estimates provide a more detailed picture of how this happened, showing growth in areas such as central and southern Florida.”