Three in Lee County among ‘fastest-growing cities in America’
Three spots in Lee County made the top 15 on a list of the fastest-growing cities in America.
Lehigh Acres, Fort Myers and Cape Coral appear among those at the top of the ranking compiled by WalletHub.com, a personal finance website.
Overall, Lehigh ranks No. 3, with Fort Myers No. 7 and Cape Coral No. 15.
Those were the top-ranked locales in all of Florida. A sampling of others: Orlando, No. 32; Miami, No. 54; Port St. Lucie, No. 63; Tampa, No. 91; Melbourne, No. 219; and Tallahassee, No. 339. Naples and Bonita Springs did not make the list.
Frisco, Texas, took the overall No. 1 rank, followed by Kent, Washington.
Analysts compared 515 cities of varying population sizes based on 15 measures of growth and decline over a period of seven years, generally from 2010 to 2016. Comparisons were made in two areas: “sociodemographics” and “jobs and economy.”
“Sociodemographics” is based on population growth, half of which the analysis based on the growth of working-age and college-educated people.
“Jobs and economy” is based on many metrics, including job growth, median household income growth, unemployment rate decrease, poverty rate decrease, increase in the number of businesses and others.
A recent population estimate for Lehigh Acres from the U.S. Census Bureau could not be determined because it technically is an unincorporated part of Lee County rather than a city. Still, its population is believed to be over 100,000, putting it in the “mid-size city” category.
The estimated population of Fort Myers was 77,146 in July 2016, whereas Cape Coral’s population was estimated to be 179,804.
Lehigh Acres ranks third in “midsize cities with the highest growth” and “highest population growth.”
Ed Moore, who chairs the board of directors for the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce, sees Lehigh’s ranking as “a very good thing.”
“It makes sense that people are moving out there simply because homes are less expensive and it’s more of a community,” he said. “It has good schools and a lot of conveniences now that didn’t used to be there. We’ve seen Culver’s come in. Businesses are taking notice.”
Moore lives in nearby Gateway, but he feels a kinship with Lehigh because it is where his parents and brother live, and where his wife works as a teacher. He sees a lot of “positives” in Lehigh, including the Lehigh Senior Center, Lehigh Community Services and Healthy Harvest Community Farms.
“I’m a big believer in you help your neighbors and Lehigh is my neighbor,” he said. “Once population growth starts to occur, then businesses automatically will follow and then the infrastructure gets built up and that’s what needs to happen.”
A few Fort Myers highlights: the city is tied for first in “highest job growth” and “highest poverty rate decrease” and second in “small cities with the highest growth.”
Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson, who is running for re-election, called the city’s ranking “very inspiring.”
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “We’ve been working hard for well over a decade now, 16-17 years as a group of elected officials and staff members.”
Henderson served on the city council for nine years prior to being elected mayor for the first time in 2009.
“Creating a high-quality city is what we’re aimed at,” he said. “This is a very gratifying report card as to those efforts.”
Henderson pointed to efforts to modernize the city’s infrastructure and attract private investment. He mentioned ongoing work in Midtown, Gardner’s Park, the Martin Luther King Jr. corridor and Cleveland Avenue.
“Cleveland Avenue is postured to have a total makeover to make it more pedestrian friendly and more beautiful, with more curb appeal,” he said. “We’re looking to create modern and affordable, attainable housing for Millennials and young professionals. We want a place for all people to live.”
Dana Brunett, who leads the Cape Coral Economic Development Office, said “we always take positives when we can get them, especially after a hurricane.”
“We always like to see that and we use this in our marketing,” he said. “Anytime you make one of these lists, it’s good.”
Cape Coral, Brunett pointed out, is only 50 percent built out, which “creates opportunity.” The city’s efforts to expand utilities in the north part of the Cape “assures desirability.”
The economic development leader looked back over the past six years he has been on the job.
“After the downturn, we really had to fill in the blanks on the retail,” he said. “We were leaking money out of town. We wanted to fill in those blanks.”
There’s now more of a focus on jobs in medical, high-tech, corporate office, manufacturing and trades.
“We’ve definitely shifted our employment to higher-wage jobs,” he said.
If you’re looking for quality lots at discounted prices, now may be the right time. Lehigh Acres has very affordable lots and even with seller financing.