The Villages is America's fastest-growing community over the last decade.
The U.S. Census Bureau found the population of The Villages metropolitan statistical area grew from about 93,000 to nearly 130,000, an increase of 38.9%, from 2010 to 2020. The Villages growth outpaced the runner-up - Austin, Texas - by nearly 6 percentage points.
The Villages MSA encompasses all of Sumter County, but does not include the portions of The Villages in Lake and Marion counties.
Eighty percent of The Villages' residents live in Sumter, which ranks as the 19th fastest-growing county out of 3,142 nationwide.
Seeing The Villages earn the top spot doesn't surprise District Manager Richard Baier.
"That's amazing isn't it," he said. "It's really an affirmation that all we have to offer for our residents - all the recreation centers, the golf courses, the lifestyle clubs, the landscaping, the public safety, the healthcare - there's truly something for everyone. To me this ranking says that people recognize the quality of life we have here is second to none. That's why people keep moving here."
There are many reasons why The Villages appeals to those seeking to migrate south, said Phil Walker, president of the VHA.
"I'm not surprised at all," said Walker, of the Village of Pennecamp. "I say that because I understand the conditions in northern states, whether it's taxes or the cold weather, that's driving people to look for relief. When they look around and see the lifestyle and amenities here, it's easy to see The Villages offers the best. People want to be a part of that lifestyle."
Baier, of the Village of Marsh Bend, said the quality of life available in The Villages appeals to a wide range of retirees.
"I did what a lot of people did," he said. "I lived in a beautiful place in Alexandria, Virginia. I came to Florida for a job interview. I wasn't all that familiar with The Villages, but when you see it you can't help but be impressed. I chose The Villages over other places to live, work and play because of the quality of life available here."
Estimates from the state's Bureau of Economic and Business Research show that Sumter County will continue to grow, driven by the southern expansion of The Villages.
In 2025, Sumter is expected to have about 168,000 residents; in 2030 that number could climb to 190,000 and by April 1, 2040, it's predicted that the county will have nearly 224,000 residents, according to BEBR.
The growth will not only continue to attract new residents, but provide benefits for current residents as well, Baier said.
"I think as The Villages grows one of the benefits is the product that is being developed is always improving and that energizes the entire community," he said. "The Villages is always evolving and offering new and different opportunities for both current and future residents. You see things like the putt-and-play or pitch-and-putt golf courses, all of the separate walking and biking trails, the nature pathways like Hogeye Preserve. Those are all the product of recognizing what community members have stated they want to see."
The population increase also has political repercussions for the area.
"Obviously the political clout of The Villages has been recognized by Florida politicians for quite some time," said Susan MacManus, professor emeritus in political science at the University of South Florida. "This might be news to politicians in the other parts of the country, but not in Florida."
The Villages has long been a Republican stronghold, hosting former former president Donald Trump and former vice president Mike Pence twice each in recent years. Gov. Ron DeSantis is a regular visitor, with his next appearance scheduled for Sept. 1 to speak after the EPOCH Times documentary "DeSantis vs. Lockdowns."
However, in the last couple of elections Democrats have discovered there's a sizeable amount of Democratic voters willing to donate and welcome candidates, MacManus said.
For example, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who are both seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2022 to face DeSantis, have already visited either in person or virtually.
"There's one message to people running for statewide office in Florida," MacManus said. "Whether you're a Democrat or Republican, do not ignore The Villages."
Next year, with the governor's mansion and other midterm elections on the line, The Villages will likely see more and more candidates stopping by for a visit.
Voters will also likely be contacted more, whether by phone, mail or in person, than they were in the past, MacManus said. After all, turnout is generally lower in midterm elections, and The Villages is a high turnout area.
"(The Villages) will be part of every statewide candidate's must-visit plan for sure," MacManus said.
The Villages is a small metro area, and the growth rate calculated to a small area can be larger, said Sean Snaith, University of Central Florida professor of economics and director of the Institute for Economic Forecasting. However, he said that doesn't diminish what's happened with The Villages over the past decade or so.
Snaith frequently says population growth is one side of a coin. The other? Economic growth.
"When you have more people moving into a particular region, you're going to by default get higher levels of economic activity," he said.
And, as retirees continue to come to The Villages, that helps fuel job growth. Retirees are not by and large moving for work, Snaith said, but they cause an increase in demand for goods and services.
For example, when people come to an area they have to have somewhere to live. Then people often buy furniture, paint, carpet and so on, said Jerry Parrish, chief economist and director of research at the Florida Chamber Foundation.
The boost in business creates jobs, which creates a larger workforce, which allows an area to recruit more companies.
While population growth as a whole has slowed in the United States, as economic growth rises birth rates fall, Snaith said The Villages' growth is instead fueled by domestic migration of retirees.
And one of the things that Florida has always been able to count on, Parrish said, is retirees moving to the state.