— Steve’s Marketplace —
Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
In the population race among the major cities in Florida, Jacksonville is lapping the field with the ferocity of Dale Earnhardt. And second-place Orlando isn’t even close.
The full-throttle growth of Jacksonville has been phenomenal. A population increase of 138,000 people (according to the latest U.S. Census) topped all Florida cities – and was ninth highest in the U.S. With nearly 1 million residents, Jacksonville dwarfs all cities in Florida.
Fueling its turbo-charged ascension, Jacksonville is accented by stylish bedroom communities like St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach. This provides idyllic small-town appeal with the big-city brawn of Jacksonville.
And while neighboring St. Johns County is among the fastest growing areas in the U.S., Nassau County is in hot pursuit like Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet. Look no further than Rayonier’s mammoth real estate development in Yulee.
Rayonier just announced its second phase of development here consisting of 15,000 homes. The ongoing first phase will top out at 3,000 homes. These mixed-use developments include national restaurants chains along with local favorites like Tasty’s and Hanna Sushi. A new Publix supermarket is also coming.
In addition, a glitzy, cutting-edge YMCA doubles as a UF Health rehabilitative facility. Three full-scale hospitals are being built just outside Rayonier’s “Wildlight” entrance, embodying what lies ahead. Nearby, the Wildlight Commerce Park will offer light industrial usages.
And all of it is good, according to Rayonier vice president Wes Hinton. “Nassau County is a great place to live – and it’s only going to get better,” Hinton says.
Jacksonville exudes plenty of its own appeal. Wide open spaces, the St. Johns River running through downtown, and vibrant beach towns are attracting attention from inside the state, but especially outside.
While many cities stagnated or lost population during the 2010-2020 census period, Jacksonville grew noticeably. Across the U.S., population growth has slowed. A 7.4 percent growth rate during the decade is the slowest since the 1930s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The reasons are obvious: declining birth rates, aging demographics and fewer immigrants. These factors added up to slower population growth, except in Sun Belt states like Florida, that is.
Orlando’s population increased by 73,000 people over the decade – half of what Jacksonville added. Orlando’s growth is impressive, yet surprisingly light when you consider the world’s biggest tourist attraction is there (Walt Disney World).
Tampa came in third in the Sunshine State. Tampa’s population grew by 51,000 people, followed closely by Miami, the second largest city in the state. Other impressive gains came from The Villages, Homestead and Fort Myers.
While the Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island population increased, the growth in Nassau County is focused on Yulee and the west side. That’s where the available acreage is, especially the thousands of acres of timberland owned by Rayonier.
“We are growing, and we’re really excited about it,” says Hinton, a lifelong resident here. Much like his company, which has had a presence in Nassau County for 80 years now – with its mills and real estate.
And much like big sister Jacksonville.
Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in several weekly newspapers in North Florida, and on his website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].