It was the signature Florida combination of audacity (Flagler and his great rival, Henry Plant, were not alone) and agriculture (marijuana ranks No. 2 behind oranges, followed by sugar cane, grapefruit and potatoes) that set the state on its growth trajectory. But today it is immigration (from northern states and Latin nations) and imagination (not so much Disney World as high tech), retirement (no state income or inheritance tax) and recreation (some of the best state parks in the country plus baseball spring training) that sustain the growth. And health care. The state logged 11.4 million days in the hospital in 2011, according to the American Hospital Directory.
What does all this growth mean for Florida and for the rest of the country that it is leaving behind?
Some predictable results: More political power (New York lost two seats, Florida gained two, after the 2010 census, with more changes to come after 2020). More federal money (because Washington’s funding formulas apportion dollars to states on the basis of population, and because Florida’s growing elderly population brings increased Medicare expenditures).
And some surprising ones: A growing environmental movement in a state that once was regarded as an ecological disaster zone. (The influx of young people is bringing a fresh environmental focus.) An increasingly nuanced demographic face that is a hint of the America to come. (Puerto Ricans joining the more established Cubans and South and Central Americans, along with the rise of Caribbeans in the state’s black population and a growing Asian population.)
But perhaps the most important effect is psychological: a sunny economic outlook to match the state’s climate. Population growth creates economic demand, especially in new construction -- much of the real-estate wreckage of the Great Recession is in the past -- and in the general sale of goods and services.