National spotlight

Forbes discovers The Villages' growth formula

By DAVID R. CORDER
DAILY SUN

THE VILLAGES - Mary Ann Nowell appreciates that Forbes gets it.

In one of its latest lists, the national business magazine discovered what most Villagers know instinctively as soon as they get here.

The magazine ranked The Villages as the country's second fastest-growing small community from 2006-09 — the recession years — behind Fairbanks, Alaska, in a survey of U.S. Census Bureau data for communities with populations of fewer than 100,000 people.

Village of Santiago residents Mary Ann and husband Michael, formerly of the Washington, D.C., area, know why The Villages ranks so high.

"Before we retired, we actually visited quite a number of retirement communities," Mary Ann said. "The Villages was the one that had everything we were looking for."

While the Forbes review of small communities is compelling, Census Bureau data for micropolitan statistical areas offers a much clearer picture of how The Villages compares with communities elsewhere. A micro area contains an urban core population of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000, the federal agency noted.

Looking at it from another perspective, The Villages micropolitan area ranked third in the country with a 13.3 percent growth rate from 2006-09 behind No. 1 Gillette, Wyo., 14.2 percent, and No. 2 Vernal, Utah, 13.4 percent.

However, The Villages is by far the fastest-growing community east of the Mississippi River. Dunn, N.C., ranked second with only a 9.9 percent population increase.

Several thoughts came to Sumter County Commissioner Don Burgess, a Villager whose county is in The Villages mico area, upon reading the Forbes story.

"First of all, I think, as a Villager, I would be very proud to be ranked second in the country," Burgess said. "This is a community that has been growing for a multitude of reasons in a difficult U.S. market."

What makes the community so different, in Burgess' opinion, is The Villages development team's ability to sell the community.

"I would attribute a lot of it to the ability to sell The Villages lifestyle to people who are thinking about retiring or purchasing a home in this location," Burgess said. "When you look at the number of softball fields, golf courses, pickleball courts, tennis courts, and if you're an active person in those, this has to be one of the principal places to live within the United States. If you're not a sports person, just look at all the clubs in The Villages."

Then couple the demand for the active adult lifestyle, which continues to fuel residential and commercial growth in The Villages, with the quality of life most people find in Central Florida, Burgess said.

"We're in Florida, and the weather is absolutely beautiful here in Central Florida," Burgess said. "The taxes are well within the range of acceptability for retirees, especially in Sumter County, where the Sumter County Commission has reduced the property tax rate the past six years. And the cost of living is reasonable."

Such national recognition excites Sumter Commission Chairman Doug Gilpin because of the economic-development opportunities.

The attention also affirms Gilpin's contention that The Villages, and its positive impact on Sumter County and surrounding communities, is assuming a larger presence on the national stage.

"Well, for one, you can't go anywhere in the United States without running across someone who has family or friends who lives in The Villages," Gilpin said. "And it's really exciting to see such national recognition because locally we know what a treasure we have."

The way Gilpin views it, the national attention could impact a number of corporate executives and business owners who eventually will retire and pick The Villages for their destination.

"I would think the economic impact could be tremendous," Gilpin said. "We are talking about people who are very successful, very well-educated and have made great choices throughout their lives."

Judging from retired executives he has met in The Villages, Gilpin hopes the Forbes story inspires more of them to move to the community.

"No question about it," Gilpin said. "That's what's so exciting about seeing the exposure in Forbes. The people who read Forbes are movers and shakers. And history has shown us in Sumter that these people don't retire when they move to The Villages. They remain active and engaged."

The impact of such national attention certainly intrigued Mary Ann Nowell, who moved seven years ago with her husband from Alexandria, Va. She views the attention for its positive impact.

"Certainly, The Villages has gotten much larger and there are more activities than there were initially for us," Mary Ann said. "There's more stores, restaurants and people. We're from the Washington, D.C., area, a large metropolitan area. So we're not put off by the increase in population. And I don't think The Villages has lost anything."

Source: Daily Sun

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