Local News

Where are you from?

SEBRING - Jim Hengy moved to Highlands County from Fort Lauderdale in search of the "real" Florida, away from the concerete jungle his former home had become. So did Linda Salerno LaFramboise. Cheryl Oxsalida bought her home in January after leaving North Bay Village, which is between Miami and Miami Beach, because it was getting too congested and expensive. Jennifer Martinez, on the other hand, moved here in 1998 from northern New Jersey, where she, her mother and grandmother were born, so she could take care of them.
Cason and Kristy Harris are originally from Michigan. Cason graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in education in 2006, right when the economy was tanking there. "I had never been to Disney, let alone Highlands County, and I took a job at Lake Placid High School," he said. His wife, who works at Florida Hospital, followed him down in 2007 when they were dating. Highlands County was "sight unseen" for her, as well. They bought their home in 2011. The five are among the thousands of transplants who have made Highlands County their home, either looking for a quieter life, to retire, be with retired parents, or in some cases, for new opportunities. While many of our migrants are from the Midwest and parts of the Northeast, almost half of the migration to Highlands County between 2006 and 2010 appears to be from other parts of Florida, estimates with the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey show. The survey, which asks respondents who have moved within a year where they formerly lived, has the population inflow and outflow mapped down from county to county. For instance, 283 people said they moved to Highlands County from Miami-Dade within the time period, survey estimates show. At 343, Polk County shows the highest migration outflow to Highlands, with Broward County coming in second at 295. As for states outside of Florida, the heaviest migration is from expected states: Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and New York. While these states have more than 60 counties each, the heaviest concentration of people who say they've moved is from a handful. According to the survey, 112 respondents from Kent County, Mich., listed Highlands County as their new home within those four years while 96 from St. Joseph County, Ind., did the same. In Ohio, Miami County had 67 respondents while Highlands County appeared popular among former residents of Livingston County, N.Y. Highlands County's Tourism Director John Scherlacher, who said he couldn't comment on migration patterns of full-time residents, said snowbirds from the Midwest have the biggest following in Highlands County. The Northeast is the second. "These are the two markets we really focus (our marketing efforts) on," he said. Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois are the Midwest states where the county and Florida, in general, is popular. Part of the reason is the "drive market." I-75 runs right up to the Midwest while 1-95 connects Florida's East Coast to the Northeast. Because of these arterial roads, Midwesterners may be more inclined to choose Florida's West Coast while East Coast residents may prefer a spot along the Sunshine State's East Coast because of the straight drive, he explained. At Reflections on Silver Lake, a retirement community in Avon Park, the biggest influx is from residents from Michigan, said RV park employee Brenda Richards, who said they also have many residents from Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Over the last few years, they have also seen an increase in the number of Canadians coming to the park, which Richards thinks is happening because a strong Canadian dollar has made the United States financially attractive to Canadians. According to the Census survey, 377 of these county transplants said they were new from abroad. From 2006-2010, the survey lists 2,525 "movers" from other states to Highlands County and almost the same number from other parts of Florida. Almost 2,200 of those said they moved from Highlands County to another state within the time period while 2,285 said they moved to another Florida county. Realtor Chip Boring, who has been selling houses in Highlands County for many years, said historically the influx of new residents has been from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan, typically retirees. By the same token, as these retirees have gotten older and have decided to move back to their families, the outflows from Highlands County have been back to the Midwest. Boring said he's also seen people from South Florida either buy a second weekend home on one of Highlands County's lakes or move here when they retired. Many of these residents may be drawn to the area's golf, fishing, lower property tax rates and its more laid-back tempo, Boring said, adding that the number of South Florida transplants has not gone up significantly as far as he sees it. .