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Flagler County to See a Population Increase?

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Flagler County may soon see an influx of new residents, thanks in part to the novel coronavirus. According to a recent survey from The Harris Poll, almost one-third of Americans have considered relocating to less densely populated areas, due to the side effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

With just over 100,000 people calling it home, our county is still relatively small and considered to be in the low-density category. According to the poll, the smaller size makes it a serious consideration for those who have already visited real estate sites looking for alternative apartments and homes.

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In the second half of March and the beginning of April, the communicable nature of the coronavirus caused the entire country to practice safer-at-home or stay-at-home orders that have only recently started to be lifted. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warns Covid-19 may become a seasonal ordeal.

If the virus does persist longer than this year, many Americans will face an important decision.

Long, spread-out lines, face shields, and even arrows marking the direction to walk in grocery stores have changed the way we interact with our world. Cities large and small have taken strong measures to adhere to national guidelines for the safe operation of businesses. Unfortunately, this may not be just a short-term fix.

“The virus is now forcing urbanites to consider social distancing as a lifestyle,” said Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema. From the edges of Bunnell to Palm Coast, residents have struggled with the effects of the social distancing guidelines. Even though Palm Coast is more crowded, people have still found ways to protect themselves and others by maintaining the recommended six feet of distance between each other.

In denser cities, tightly-packed residences and stores make this way of living more difficult — causing locations such as Flagler County to be that much more appealing. People are considering fleeing from larger urban cities.

This Harris poll, and many like it, has sparked debates on whether the pandemic will actually influence if people do choose to leave big cities. As Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto put it: “urbanization has always been a greater force than infectious disease.”

Foreign Policy has cited several metropolitan planning experts who suggest that work, wages, and healthcare infrastructure is still an important reason to remain in urban cities. Large corporations tend to establish themselves in major cities to maintain the widest selection of new candidates to hire. Wages are typically better for middle-class careers. Health systems, which have for the most part avoided the worst of the early predictions of this year, are much more expanded, offering extensive treatments for even the rarest disease. In addition, some experts do not believe people will pack up and move during a recession, opting to hang on to their savings accounts for as long as possible.

Despite these benefits, some statistics show that homebuying in suburban and rural areas has increased, even before the worries of Covid-19. An analysis of Census Bureau data shows growth slowdown for major metro areas of at least one million people, dating back over the last four years. Meanwhile, smaller areas that historically experienced a decline in population have climbed upward instead.

Demographers and realtors suggest that the virus is a “tipping point” for those who already wanted to move. The virus has accelerated this trend further by pushing some into an immediate need to relocate. Since many businesses have enacted work-at-home policies throughout the country, their employees have an opportunity to live farther away from the office in favor of telecommuting.

Many of these businesses do not expect to open their offices until the beginning of 2021. Brookings suggests that many of these companies will continue to allow remote working for even longer after the pandemic. A survey of chief financial officers supported this theory by indicating they planned to keep at least part of their staff remote — both to save on costs and to boost worker productivity.

Relocating from an urban center to a less dense city saves money for most people. Economic data for Flagler County shows that the cost of living is more affordable by far in our coastal municipals than more urban counties such as Miami-Dade. Average mortgage costs are almost $500 less each month and the average household earns nearly $5,000 more income annually. This affordability likely contributed to the twenty percent population growth we have seen in the last decade.

Yes, there will be new residents calling our county home. Many have already arrived, and more will follow in their footsteps. We should welcome our new neighbors with open arms and embrace them. Figuratively, of course… from six feet away.

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