When it comes to attracting new residents to the area – and keeping current ones from moving away – Polk County ranks among the very best in the nation.
U.S. News & World Report recently released its ranking of The 20 Best Places People Are Moving To in the U.S. for 2016. The list included the 100 most populous metropolitan areas in the country.
The Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area, which comprises all of Polk, placed No. 16.
In compiling its list, U.S. News & World Report examined population growth by net migration between 2010 and 2014 using U.S. Census Bureau data. The metro areas were ranked based on the difference between the number of people relocating there versus those moving away.
“It was a little surprising at first, but the more I think about it, it’s actually not so surprising,” said Dawna Stone, broker and owner with The Property Shoppe of Central Florida. She is also the president-elect for the Lakeland Association of Realtors.
Stone has worked as a Realtor in Central Florida since 2005.
“I’ve seen ups, downs and everything in between,” she said. “We’re in a great spot in the middle of the state, the weather is always good, and price points for homes are moderate compared to other metropolitan areas.
“The cost of living here is good, too.”
U.S. News & World lists the Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area as having a population of 617,323 and the county’s median home price at $145,350 to go along with an average monthly rent of $870. The county had a net migration rate of 4.4 percent.
Lakeland-Winter Haven is one of seven Florida metro areas that cracked the Top 20. Fort Myers (9.4 percent net migration rate) topped this year’s list, which also included Sarasota (No. 3, 7.8 percent), Orlando (No. 5, 6.4 percent), Miami (No. 10, 5 percent), Daytona Beach (No. 15, 4.6 percent), Lakeland-Winter Haven, and Tampa (No. 18, 4.3 percent.)
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U.S. News & World singled out Polk for its convenient location that “gives it easy access to tourism hot spots like Tampa and Orlando.”
“That’s definitely our No. 1 selling point,” said Kris Keprios, tourism, sales, and marketing manager for Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing (PCTSM). “We have some world-class attractions of our own, but we’re also not very far away from some of the most famous attractions in the whole world.”
Although PCTSM’s focus is attracting tourism to the area, Keprios said those visitors can turn into permanent residents if Polk proves to be appealing.
“You could have a CEO or someone from a corporation visit a place, really enjoy themselves there, and decide that they either want to do business there or move there when they retire,” Keprios said. “If you create a community or destination that people want to visit, you’re also going to have a destination that people want to move to.”
Jack Myers is the president of the East Polk County Association of Realtors and an Auburndale city commissioner. He’s lived in Polk since 1973.
“It’s a great place to raise a family,” Myers said. “You still get a great value here compared to living in Tampa or Orlando.”
According to the U.S. News & World list, the median home prices in Tampa ($173,750) and Orlando ($188,250) are both noticeably higher than in Polk.
“You go 30-something miles in either direction and you won’t find crime rates that are as low or property taxes that are as low,” Myers said.
This article was published by John Ceballos on October, 14, 2016
U.S. News & World Report also released its overall Best Places to Live rankings for 2016. Lakeland-Winter Haven ranked No. 70.