THE VILLAGES – The roar of The Villages as a regional economic engine just shifted into an even higher gear.
The Villages Developer’s recently announced plans to develop 14,000 homes in and beyond the Village of Fenney benefits, not only the community’s existing and projected population base, but also residents living outside The Villages, particularly in Sumter County, say state economic experts and local community leaders.
The potential economic gains certainly raise The Villages’ profile to a new level on the state, national and global stage, said state Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-The Villages, who has served in a variety of community leadership roles over the past eight years prior to his election last year to the Florida House of Representatives.
“What it means to folks throughout the region, and now more importantly than ever, is to create quality, high-paying jobs for our children and grandchildren into the future,” said Hahnfeldt, of the Village of Bridgeport at Lake Miona. “What’s happening in this area, beyond a community that offers such a high quality of life and standard of living, is the vision shared by not only The Villages Developer but also city, county and state leadership working together to make all of this a reality. That’s the uniqueness of this community.”
The forecast for this expansion is compelling, said Stanley Geberer, a senior associate at Orlando-based Fishkind & Associates, a 35-member economic and financial consulting firm.
Prior to this announcement, he said, The Villages anticipated an original buildout at about 55,000 homes.
“An additional 14,000 homes represents an increase by more than 25 percent,” Geberer said. “That gives you a scope and scale.”
Then apply the Census Bureau multiplier of 1.9 persons per home, he said, and the picture sharpens.
“It could add more than 25,000 new residents, assuming 1.9 persons per household,” Geberer said.
This is practical, sustainable growth, too, said Sean Snaith, an economics professor at the University of Central Florida.
“We’re still on the front edge of the baby boomers retiring, so that momentum is going to be sustained,” he said.
Then take into consideration that The Villages weathered the Great Recession far better than most communities, Snaith said.
“We know the retirees have driven the growth in the region, and really throughout the recession and subsequent to it,” he said. “And that spawns additional growth and businesses to support all these new residents. So you’ll have a ripple effect.”
Jobs lie at the heart of this expansion plan.
It creates a new generation of construction jobs likely to extend well beyond the next decade, with a new layer of permanent jobs to follow, Geberer and Snaith said.
“I’m sure many of the construction people who are working there today and have worked there 10 years were asking the questions, ‘Where am I going to raise my family, what do I do with my home, when The Villages construction goes away?” Geberer said. “With this announcement, the kids of these workers are going to be able to grow up in their homes and graduate from high school there. They’re going to be able to keep workers to diversify the economy. So, this announcement isn’t just about retirees. It’s also about young people.”
And that means jobs for workers living in Lake, Marion and Sumter counties and elsewhere as The Villages continues to grow, Snaith said.
“Economic activity is never a prisoner to political boundaries,” he said. “It spills over county lines. While retirees may be an important part and the genesis of all that’s happening, they need medical, financial and retail services. All of those people in those industries obviously are not retired.”
Lightning in a Bottle
New homes, and the commercial development that follows, produce another economic benefit not only for residents in the Sumter portion of The Villages but for all county residents, Sumter Property Appraiser Joey Hooten said.
“It’s really going to have the impact of keeping property taxes lower for every Sumter County resident,” he said.
Over the past 12 years, the Sumter County Commission has been able to maintain property taxes at or below the roll-backed rate, the rate that state law defines as either as tax neutral or a decrease, County Administrator Bradley Arnold said.
New residential and commercial construction, which added to the tax base, enabled the commission to adopt such a conservative tax policy, he said.
“The coming fiscal year we’re working on a budget to make it the 13th year where the commission sets the millage rate at or below the rollback rate,” he said.
All of this activity, fueled by quality residential and commercial development, fits well into the county’s long-term economic growth plan, commission Chairman Doug Gilpin said.
“It’s just a true blessing for Sumter County,” he said. “We’ve had so much well-developed and structured growth that’s been so successful that it’s an exciting time for us. When you think about it, where else in the world do you have such a rock-solid developer building year after year and so many people wanting to come here? It’s like lightning in a bottle.”
David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 9066, or email@example.com.