by Mike Vogel
Updated 5 yearss ago
In 2012, Steve and Janet Brown left Illinois for the pre-eminent retirement development in Florida, The Villages. He was 65, retiring from the company for which he had worked for 45 years as an engineer and in risk management. She was 61, a retiring social worker.
Janet found the development in an internet search. Developed by the late Gary Morse, The Villages lies northwest of Orlando, mostly in Sumter County but also spreading into Marion and Lake. The Browns came to see. “Within a couple days, we said, ‘we’ve got to look at houses,’ ” Steve Brown recalls. “This is like wonderland.”
The Browns’ ‘wonderland’ reflects some of the trends shaping Florida, particularly population growth and aging.
For two years running, The Villages has been the nation’s fastest growing metro area, according to the U.S. Census. For the most recent 12-month period tracked by the U.S. Census, The Villages added 16 people a day, bringing its population toward 115,000. (Villages spokesman Gary Lester says the Census includes areas not part of The Villages and the development’s population actually is 106,000.) Thanks to The Villages, Sumter County grew nearly 24% from 2010 to 2015 — with The Villages accounting for two-thirds of the county’s population.
Some 52% of the county’s population is at least 65, compared to 19% statewide.
The Villages and Sumter are developing contrary to other trends, however. According to UF’s BEBR, Sumter is one of only seven counties in Florida where the non-Hispanic white share of the population increased from 2000 to 2010 and the only county where the Hispanic share declined. Its share of non- Hispanic, non-whites also fell, the biggest fall among Florida counties.
Affluent arrivees at The Villages have driven the county’s total personal income and per capital income skyward. Median home value in The Villages is $218,000, though there are million-dollarplus homes as well.
But the tide hasn’t lifted all boats. The number of people living in poverty in the county actually has increased in recent years. Around 34% of the county’s kids live in poverty, up from nearly 26% five years earlier.
The Villages will be built out in two years but for now residents continue to be drawn by its welltended grounds, nightly entertainment and dances in the village squares, 630 holes of golf and “free golf for life” on the 39, nine-hole executive courses. There are more than 2,000 clubs, from A (a capella singing) to Z (Zen meditation). In between, there are clubs for radio-controlled sailboats, alumni of various colleges, clubs based on residents’ former home states, a club for owners of convertibles (the Browns have a white 2013 Beetle), a lifelong learning college and a Harley Davidson club.
“Just got back from water volleyball,” says Steve Brown. “Played pickle ball the other night. The wife and I like to go dancing. There’s dancing all the time. You just can’t be bored. It’s not possible.”