Millennials on the rise in snowbird county: Why they’re flocking here

Sitting at a table in Starbucks waiting for a friend to bring over coffee, Monica Cantor of Jupiter is busy typing away at her laptop. Her attention, reserved for what’s on her screen, is called to her cellphone as a notification flashes it to life.

“When I grew up, this area was a snowbird town,” she said, taking her eyes off the screen. But she acknowledges a new twist: a shift toward young professionals. U.S. Census estimates back her up. The number of adults aged 25-35 in Palm Beach County is up 17 percent over six years, a greater climb than in the previous 10 years, recently released figures show.

While the figures confirm the continued graying of Palm Beach County, they also show that millennials are making Palm Beach County their home.

Cantor, 31, went to school at the University of Florida and like many others her age, moved back for family, landing a job in medical sales. “The industry is really booming here,” she said. “Miami is where everyone wants to go, but as those areas get saturated, people tend to move here.”

Cantor isn’t alone. David Burgiel, tugging on his dog’s leash as they both step out of the way of a downtown trolley, is enjoying a sunny afternoon on Clematis Street in shorts and flip flops.

Burgiel, 32, an insurance broker, has seen downtown change. “It has definitely gotten more crowded,” he said. And, though he said it’s a good thing to see new faces, “It can get annoying sometimes, especially when you are in traffic.”

Millennials in Palm Beach County, those born between 1980 and 1995, have been a large portion of the population. But the percentage grew even greater in 2016, fueled by immigration, both domestic and international. 

“A lot of the larger urban counties in Florida tend to see an increase in the younger population because of the colleges and work opportunities these counties have to offer,” said Stefan Rayer, the population program director at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

The number of young adults living in urban areas nationwide has gone up over the past decade. The prime mover is an increase in birth rates between 1980 and 1990, wrote Dowell Myers, professor of demography at the University of Southern California in “Peak Millennials: Major forces behind their growth in cities and the expected future decline.”

In other words, there were a lot more people born 25 years ago. These people are now entering the 25-35 age group, even in Palm Beach County.

Despite this uptick among the young, Palm Beach County continues to attract the old.

While the nation’s median age (the age where half of the population is younger and the other half older) is 37.9 years, Palm Beach County’s grew to 44.7 in 2016 from 43.5 in 2010. That’s older than the state as a whole, at 42.1.

Minority majority in eight years

By 2025, the county’s white population is on pace to fall below 50 percent for the first time.

As of July 2016, whites made up 56 percent of the county’s 1.44 million residents, a drop from 60 percent in 2010. Hispanics made up 21.5 percent while growing at a 23 percent clip since 2010. Blacks, growing at an 18 percent pace, represented 18.3 percent of the county’s population.

Nearly one-fourth of the county was 65 or older in 2016. Whites made up four-fifths of the elderly, while Hispanics made up about 9 percent and blacks made up 8 percent.

A third of children under 5 are Hispanic, while blacks made up 26 percent of the county’s youngest population. Another third were white.

Palm Beach County, the state’s third largest county, hardly had any natural growth — births minus deaths — since 2010, Rayer said. The county had only 2,000 more births than deaths.

Most of the population growth in that time has been due to migration from other states and countries, he said. The Census calculated that 117,814 people, more than half from within the United States, moved into the county since 2010.

The estimates, released June 22, go beyond the U.S. Census Bureau’s door-to-door survey conducted every 10 years. Using birth and death data from the National Center for Health Statistics and each state’s vital statistics, the bureau builds off the 10-year base.

Why Palm Beach County?

Millennials now in their 20s and 30s make up 17 percent of the county’s population, an increase of 7 percentage points from 10 years ago.

”There has always been a young crowd in West Palm Beach. It’s a nice place to grow up. There is so much to do. The sun, the beach and the crime rate is low,” said Jazlyn Walker, a sports management student at Florida State University who moved to Palm Beach County from Tallahassee when she was 5. Millennials, she said, don’t want to be tied down to a traditional job, they want to be free and start their own businesses.

One such millennial is Christine Cassi. She works at a law firm in West Palm Beach but is getting a business degree. Sitting under the shade of a patio umbrella in CityPlace she says if given the opportunity she would like to open her own yoga studio.

New York-born Daniel Marino’s family wanted a fresh start so they moved to South Florida when he was 5. Marino, a pastor at Trinity Church, encounters many young people who come to South Florida to combat drug addiction.

With the nation in the throes of an opioid epidemic and Palm Beach County’s long-held reputation as a rehab capital, young people have been flocking here for years. Many stay, said John Lehman, chief executive and chairman of the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, a non-profit that helps regulate recovery homes.

“Part of the recovery process involves migrating to a healthy environment,” Lehman said. “South Florida provides the perfect environment for that. The weather and the people are an essential part of the process.”

The county has also seen a steady increase in international migration since 2010. In 2016 alone, the county added 8,443 international residents to its population, the Census found.

Among the 100,000 immigrants to land in Palm Beach County since 2000 is 24-year-old Jarvis Ramil from the Philippines. He just finished studying public health at the University of South Florida and is back home to spend time with his family before he moves to Jacksonville to join the National Health Corps.

“Over the years, I have seen a big push towards the arts and the creative in the city. … You see a lot of new start ups and street art now,” he said, adding that over the years society seems to have tilted more toward the creative.

Dennis Grady, president and chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches, has noticed the trend.

“Millennials have an entrepreneurial spirit. They are building their own start ups,” Grady said, citing universities as a catalyst for inventiveness. “There are programs now that allow people to develop enterprises while doing their course work. Students go into school with an idea and then come out with a developed product.”

The more local the better

Matt Jezior, an insurance broker, moved to South Florida from Detroit 10 years ago for a job after college.

“The weather here is great. There is a lot more opportunity in South Florida than in Detroit. High-risk (insurance) assessment is big down in Florida,” he said, passionately adding that he enjoyed the culture of the county.

Jezior, 32, has been living in West Palm Beach for two months. He laughs off the fact that rent is high. He prefers to talk about the thriving food and music scene.

But housing costs are a major driving factor in attracting millennials.

South Florida has the highest share of people spending more than half of their incomes on housing, according to a recent report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach region has the highest rate of millennials living with their parents, said a study by Abodo, an apartment listing service.

But that may be changing.

“Many millennials are shunning the suburbs. They are gravitating to areas that have a more local feel. Local business, local products, etc., places that are more authentic,” said Raphael Clemente, executive director of the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority.

West Palm Beach appeals to young people because it is close enough to already established cultural hubs and is on its way to becoming one itself, Clemente said.

In June, Time magazine analyzed “25 cities where millennials are moving,” placing Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach 10th.

“The 25-35 age group has proven to take up jobs that will let them pursue recreation,” the chamber’s Grady said. Millennials value living downtown with peers, socializing in an urban setting and alternative transportation like the bus, train, Uber or biking and walking. 

Development trends fuel this migration.

“(Developer) Jeff Greene’s micro-apartment project will attract young people, who prefer to live by themselves in the middle of it all,” said Clemente, citing an apartment project proposed for Banyan Boulevard.

“We have tried to do that with downtown. We have tried to position ourselves not just as a place where people want to visit, but where people want to stay.”

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