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Hernando, Citrus near top in growth forecast

Continued growth in retiree populations should make Hernando and Citrus counties among the state's leaders in job and wage growth during the next decade, while Pinellas and other big counties will see economic declines, predicts a new study released late Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the economic growth for the entire state is likely to slow but will still outpace the national rate, the study by the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research shows.

Hernando is expected to be the third-fastest-growing county in the state over the next decade when it comes to percentage increases in new jobs, behind only Flagler County in northeast Florida and Osceola County in Central Florida, according to the study.

Citrus is expected to be the third-fastest-growing county in terms of per capita income growth, followed by Hernando. The top two counties in that category are St. Lucie County in southeast Florida and Hamilton County in the northern part of the state.

"In Citrus, of course, it's due to the retirees moving there," said UF economist David Lenze, chief author of the study. "That means jobs from what they spend there, as well as the fact that there's a lot of construction there because of them."

Orange County in Central Florida is expected to get the most new jobs, 182,000.

Reached at home Wednesday, Lenze said he couldn't recall the factors that are expected to drive Hernando's growth.

Hernando, Citrus and Pasco counties have been among the state's fastest growing in terms of population growth in recent years, largely because of retiree migration.

Pinellas, long one of the nation's biggest retiree destinations, has been declining in population growth as it runs out of buildable land. The decline should also result in declines in job growth over the next decade, according to Lenze.

Hillsborough County, meanwhile, is expected to hold its own, with moderate growth in job creation during the next decade.

The report projected that only seven counties in Florida will grow economically at a faster rate during the next decade than they did during the last decade: Escambia, Gadsden, Glades, Hamilton, Polk, Sumter and Taylor. Most of those counties are in the northern part of the state.

Most of those counties should be aided by the construction of new prisons, the study shows.

"It's a chicken-egg story," Lenze told the Associated Press. "The counties got the prisons because they weren't growing."

The prison population is projected to rise by 17,000 during the next decade, requiring about 6,800 prison guards, the report said.

While most Florida counties will see lower growth of jobs over the next decade, the report held some good news for families.

"Although we're forecasting slower growth of jobs over the next 10 years, the average household income in Florida in most of the counties will be higher," Lenze said.

He said that "every place is growing in Florida, but some of the largest ones, like Dade, Broward, Duval and Pinellas, will grow rather slowly compared to small metropolitan counties."

"It has a lot to do with the attractiveness of less congested areas for primarily retirees," Lenze said. "That's the engine that drives the economy. They come here and spend money, and that creates more jobs."