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2010 census shows Florida still packing in newcomers

Not even a Great Recession could reverse the juggernaut of growth that has long driven the economies and politics of Tampa Bay and Florida.

Florida still ranks among the country's three top growth states, 2010 U.S. Census data released Thursday show. The state gained almost 3 million people. The population reached 19 million — a 17 percent hike.

The census is always an eagerly awaited glimpse of our lives, but it's an imperfect one.

"The census counts give us a snapshot of the population in 2000 and 2010," said Linda Fisher, principal planner for the Pinellas Planning Council. "But it can't tell us what happened in between."

Still, from beginning to end it was quite a decade.

Hillsborough County grew by 23 percent and held its own as the state's fourth most populous county, behind Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Pasco and Hernando counties both grew more than 30 percent.

In the Tampa Bay region, only Pinellas County and St. Petersburg faltered. Their census populations dipped slightly for the first time in history. About 25,000 more people in Pinellas died than were born.

"It's very important when a place — especially a coastal community — loses population," said Orlando economist Hank Fishkind. "It means the place is less attractive in a competitive setting, and it loses jobs."

Pinellas is simply showing its age, other experts said. The county is mostly built out, so a flat rate was expected. Pinellas remains the most densely populated county in the state.

Elsewhere, growth ruled.

To the east, Orange County grew by 27.8 percent. It added 250,000 people — the state's largest increase. To the south, Manatee grew by 22.3 percent and Lee grew by 40.3 percent.

"Only in a state that for the past 50 years added 1,000 people a day would 3 million seem depressing," said Gary Mormino, a Florida historian for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

But the worst hard times since the Great Depression did leave a dent. Here are some highlights from the data:

• Densely populated Pinellas County went from being Florida's fifth most-populous county in 2000 to sixth in 2010. The county was one of only two that lost population. Pinellas, with 916,542 residents, has about 5,000 fewer people than in 2000. Orange County, which surged to just more than 1 million residents, now holds the No. 5 spot.

• St. Petersburg's population decreased by 1.4 percent (3,463 people), but it remains the fourth largest city in the state. Tampa, which grew nearly 11 percent in the past 10 years, remains the third largest city.

• In Hillsborough County, Tampa grew by more than 30,000 people, but Riverview added more than 40,000. Brandon added another 25,000. "The county grew the way we planned," said Planning Commission executive director Robert B. Hunter.

• The state's Hispanic/Latino population continued to surge, increasing about 57 percent from 2000 to 2010. At the start of the last decade, people in that ethnic group made up nearly 17 percent of the total population; in 2010 they were 22.5 percent.

• The state's black/African-American population also increased, from 15 percent of the population in 2000 to 17 percent in 2010. In Hillsborough, minority growth included 56,000 blacks and 127,000 Hispanics.

• Asians, while still a relatively small portion of the population, were the fastest-growing minority in the last 10 years. They grew by 71 percent. There are now more than a half-million Asians in the state. Orange County had the largest increase.

Half a century ago, when newcomers were arriving at that thousand-a-day clip, Florida's census growth rate sometimes neared 80 percent.

Most demographers and economists believe those days are gone. They say the state is still years away from full economic recovery. But the experts believe more growth will come.

"The question this census raises is do we want those thousand people a day back?" said Mormino, the USF historian.

"Or does Florida want to rethink its future?"

2010 census shows Florida still packing in newcomers 03/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 18, 2011 11:26am]

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