Economic downturn gives Hernando a chance to grow better

I admit it: I went to the Cascades looking for the bleakest possible view of the local housing market.

Sure, there are plenty of other unfinished subdivisions around. The weedy vacant lots, the pavement ending abruptly in sand — it's part of our landscape now, sorry to say. If we were honest, we'd put it on our county seal.

But the Cascades, south of downtown Brooksville, has the added distinction of being developed by a now-bankrupt national builder, Levitt & Sons. And with only 56 completed houses out of a planned 999, the project stalled out particularly short of its goal.

All of which has been hard on property values.

Ray and Veronica Koziol, for example, said the worth of their home in the Cascades has shrunk to roughly half the $402,000 they paid for it two years ago.

Funny, though, they didn't seem nearly as down on Florida's future — at least its long-term future — as I expected.

For one thing, these two 60-year-olds are on the leading edge of the much anticipated wave of baby boomer retirees. They figure that at least a few million of them will want to move to Florida.

This is especially true — and here we come to the big reason for their optimism — if these retirees now live in Michigan.

"Everybody wants to get out of Michigan,'' said Veronica Koziol, who moved with her husband from a town halfway between Detroit and Flint.

"Michigan is dead. ... It's going to be — the last one out, turn off the lights.''

This, then, could be Florida's ace in the hole: Midwestern states such as Ohio and especially Michigan — where unemployment has climbed to 11.6 percent — seem to be the only ones worse off than we are.

Which, in turn, means that Hernando's economic future could look a lot like its past, fueled by selling houses and services to Midwestern retirees.

Want more proof?

• A 2008 report from the LeRoy Collins Institute found baby boomers are already moving south, and "Florida is becoming the chosen destination for the affluent.''

• United Van Lines' list of "outbound states'' — ones customers move from rather than to — included several from the Midwest. Michigan, surprise, surprise, "once again captured the top outbound spot in 2007,'' said the company's Web site.

• The median age in Hernando has jumped from 44 earlier in the decade, when the Suncoast Parkway was drawing working-age commuters, to a current age of 50, said David Miles, a county demographics planner.

Miles cautioned that this is only an estimate, and may be a suspect one, considering how few newcomers of any age have arrived in the past two years.

And there are plenty of other reasons not to get carried away: The huge inventory of unsold homes; an economy that is forcing more people to stay put; the state's estimate that annual population growth in Hernando will stay below 2 percent for at least another decade.

Even if the retirees do roll in, we shouldn't treat it as a green light to resume what we always have done: promote development with low taxes and lax growth management, skimp on education and sit back and enjoy a one-dimensional economy.

No, what this all means is that we just might be granted another chance to do things right.

Economic downturn gives Hernando a chance to grow better 03/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 7, 2009 12:27pm]

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