FORT MYERS, Fla. -A new report from the website WalletHub ranked Lehigh Acres as the fastest growing community in the country by population. The report also calculated job growth, which wasn’t as favorable to Lehigh, but found Fort Myers as the second highest ranked in that category.
The dichotomy between the two might be perfectly explained by Diana Vessels, who moved to Lehigh Acres full-time two years ago after visiting for four years.
“You know, it’s not just a theory I’ve heard, it’s what I’ve actually seen,” Vessels said referring to the report.
Vessels lives one street over from Lee Boulevard. From her front yard, you can see and hear the construction of a new Aldi grocery store. There’s also a Goodwill Job Center that wasn’t there when she first started coming to Lehigh.
“There’s buildings going up everywhere around here,” Vessels said.
The buildings are following the people. Census data in 2010 found the population in Lehigh Acres to be 86,784. But according to estimates from the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research, in 2014 the population was about 106,747.
“It’s not only number one in terms of population growth but of working age population growth. So it’s not like this is where a retiree hot spot is or anything like that,” said WalletHub’s Jill Gonzalez.
The same study ranked Lehigh Acres 435th for “Jobs and Economy.” However, Fort Myers ranked 2nd in “Highest Job Growth.”
Vessels works at a Home Depot in Fort Myers city limits. She said the commute isn’t bad.
“Summer 15 to 20 minutes, winter 30 to 40 to 45,” Vessels said with a laugh.
Home prices are significantly cheaper in Lehigh Acres versus Fort Myers. According to the website Trulia, the median home sale price in Fort Myers is $198,500 compared to Lehigh’s $140,000.
“I love the house; I love the location,” Vessels said.
Other homeowners NBC2 talked to in Lehigh Acres said price was the driving factor in moving to the community. WalletHub’s Gonzalez believes the jobs will follow them out there.
“In Lehigh, we see the workers are there, the population is there, now the jobs need to follow,” Gonzalez said.