The Villages is America’s fastest-growing hometown. From April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2018, the Census Bureau found the population of The Villages metropolitan statistical area grew from 93,420 to 128,754, an increase of 37.8%.
The Villages growth rate for the time period was 10 percentage points higher than the second-place area, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which saw a 27.7% growth rate. The Census Bureau released the numbers today from its 2018 population survey.
The Villages ranks among the top 10 metropolitan areas in another category as well. The area placed sixth, at 3.1%, in year-over-year growth. The leader in this category was Midland, Texas, which grew 4.3% from 2017 to 2018.
And The Villages’ growth is predicted to continue.
Estimates from the state’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research show that Sumter County will grow to an estimated 133,900 by April 1, 2020.
In 2025, Sumter is expected to have 155,500 residents; in 2030 that number will climb to 175,100 and by April 1, 2040, it’s predicted that the county will have 206,200 residents.
“There’s big expansion in the southern part of The Villages, and we expect that trend to continue,” said Richard Doty, GIS coordinator/research demographer at BEBR. “The lion’s share of the growth is in the unincorporated areas and Wildwood.”
The growth has spurred an ambitious connectivity project including the construction of three golf cart bridges spanning State Road 44 and Florida’s Turnpike, as well as a network of tunnels and multimodal trails to connect the entire community.
It has brought new amenities for residents such as the recently opened Cattail Recreation Area and Marsh View Pitch & Putt golf course in the Village of Marsh Bend; Fenney Putt & Play in the Village of Fenney; and Dudley Canine Park and Archery Range near the Village of DeSoto.
And it is the catalyst for growth in the commercial retail and medical services offered in the southern region, including new buildings for retail space at Brownwood Paddock Square; the new Magnolia Plaza, with an initial phase that will include a planned grocery store and two wings of additional retail space; the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood, a multispecialty medical center; and Brownwood Hotel & Spa, a 150-room resort hotel that will feature a Wolfgang Puck-licensed restaurant, a medical spa, and community and business meeting facilities.
David Suleiman, who now also owns the restaurant at Havana Country Club and The Legacy restaurant at Nancy Lopez Legacy Country Club in The Villages, said he knew he was on to something shortly after he opened his first Villages restaurant, Johnny Rockets at Lake Sumter Landing, in 2012.
“After I started to talk to guests at Johnny Rockets, I saw that a lot of the visitors had fallen in love with the place,” Suleiman said. “They’d traveled the world and wanted to be in The Villages. I knew we were partnered up with something growing in the right direction.”
The Census Bureau designates that the Villages MSA has the same boundaries as Sumter County, so it contains some areas not part of The Villages and doesn’t include The Villages areas in Lake and Marion counties.
The Villages population, as of March 31, that includes Lake, Marion and Sumter counties was 122,460, according to The Villages.
Because The Villages MSA is the same area as Sumter County, census data showed the county growing at a 37.8% rate. That made Sumter the fourth-fastest growing county in the nation from 2010 to 2018.
Part of the reason for The Villages’ growth might also come from the aphorism about the three things to look for in real estate: location, location and location.
“It’s evident the growth is taking place,” said Don Burgess, chairman of the Sumter County Board of Commissioners and a Village of Bonnybrook resident. “There’s so many benefits to this location. The crossroads of Florida are here. The other factor in the success of The Villages is their concept of selling the lifestyle has been so successful.”
New Villagers persuading their old friends and neighbors to move also draws new residents, Burgess said.
“The bigger we get, the more contacts are made back home,” he said.
The key to the success of the partnership between The Villages and Sumter County has been communication, according to Karl Holley, development services director for the county.
“The biggest thing is that The Villages and the Sumter County government coordinate so we can stay ahead of the curve,” Holley said.
Suleiman said he’s prepared to take advantage of the continued growth.
“Sometime this year, we hope to start expanding again,” he said. “There’s just so much growth and opportunity in The Villages. We see ourselves putting 100% into The Villages.”
Steve Straehley is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.