Population spurt should spur business investment planning
By Michael Lewis
Change alters business. In Miami-Dade, we've vastly under-projected population growth, creating more and different economic opportunities than we foresaw.
As we reported last week, South Florida's population has suddenly spurted after stagnating for a decade. The jump should send executives scurrying to leverage the unexpected shift.
South Florida's population rose 1.7% last year. Miami-Dade's alone grew even faster, 2.1%. Nobody saw it coming.
The region's growth was sixth-fastest in the US, according to the Census Bureau. The region didn't crack the top 50 in growth pace from 2000 to 2010.
The new figures should not only send businesses rushing to the planning table but are likely to lure outside investors, who tend to flock to fast-growing communities.
In mid-2000s projections, Miami-Dade had planned for growth of 32,129 people last year, up 1.2%. Instead, the gain hit 52,000.
County planners also underestimated in-migration from around the nation. They'd projected a net outflow of 27,226 to the rest of the US, but actually we gained 18,400 more from the nation than left us.
That might initiate an era in which Miami-Dade again becomes a magnet for the nation as well as the globe. But one year is a short sample to assess, and factors at play are unclear.
Still, business should analyze opportunities carefully. Indeed, realtors and developers who'd relied on an influx from abroad already notice a growing US inflow. Other businesses will gauge that trend carefully.
The excess of births over deaths was about what planners had projected. Indeed, it fell a hair short, 13,200 instead of the projected 16,826.
None of us should underestimate the impact of foreign immigration, which at more than 20,000 also exceeded planners' projection of fewer than 17,000. That number remains higher than our domestic gain.
What is key is that we have three relatively equal inflows of population: natural increase, inflow from the US and inflow from abroad. That expands opportunity.
Of course, a county of more than 2.5 million cannot add a high annual percentage forever. The larger we get, the more people make up each percentage point. Rates must slow over time, if only because land and water are finite. None of us signed up to live in traffic congestion or overcrowding.
Up to the middle of the last century our population about doubled each decade. Then rates slowed. From the 1970s to the 1980s gains averaged 2.8% yearly, then dipped to average 1.9% from 1980 to 1990 and fell to 1.3% early in the 1990s. In the past decade the pace fell nearer 1%, to 10.8% gain for the decade, while the state as a whole grew 17.6%.
Now we see a spurt. It's not clear it will continue, but don't bet against it. We remain a global magnet, and now the rest of the US is back in the growth fold. We're nowhere near saturation.
A possible contributor to growth: bright teens who left for college and didn't return now come home to a more youthful and exciting center city that offers more quality career opportunities. The end of the brain drain, particularly in the African-American community, would be a boon.
Another possibility: 10,000 US baby boomers turn 65 daily. Many head south to retire. But Miami has long since been upstaged as a retirement magnet by lower-cost, less-urban Central and North Florida. Our percentage over 65 was 14.1% in 2010 verses 17.3% for Florida as a whole.
A wild card: Unreported residents from abroad, many illegal. We know our official population would jump — bringing more federal dollars in many categories — were they reported. How many are they, and how many actually have high, not low, economic power?
A concern: Can job opportunities keep up with growth? Or is it true that the influx adds proportionately more jobs than newcomers represent? Most incoming residents probably become mini- economic engines, not drags on society.
A hope: The incoming population might lower, not raise, our average age. That's vital because younger residents add output rather than living on it. Look at Japan, where population is aging and declining, forcing fewer at working ages to support more and more retirees.
What seems clear is that more people pressure transportation and services but create critical mass for higher amenity levels. A smaller Miami couldn't have attracted or supported our present top-tier arts and culture, or indeed sports and high-end retail in profusion.
We see the rising population growth as an engine to stimulate our economy. But government and business must plan carefully to achieve that.
Enterprises should be back at the planning table to assess the population spurt's meaning and to leverage its opportunities.
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