LAKELAND, Fla. — More people are calling Polk County home.
According to new census population estimates, the Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area had the second-highest rate of population growth in the U.S. from July 2019 to 2020 at 2.7%.
Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said more people are migrating to the smaller metro because of its focus on safety and quality of life.
“We’re almost a suburb of the two large cities in some degree. So, it gives you that feel of people that are friendly, maybe a downtown that is more walkable with less intensity some of the larger cities might have,” Mutz said.
The mayor tells ABC Action News, in addition to being a welcoming business environment, it also has created an influx of employment opportunities in Lakeland.
“Our businesses are struggling with the number one issue of having enough people to hire, particularly the retail service businesses. That’s where we’re in the greatest need,” said Mutz.
According to the Florida Chamber Foundation, Polk County will need to fill an additional 41,193 new jobs by 2030.
Also, with rapid population growth comes the concern of available homes. Mayor Mutz said affordable housing is the number one priority for the City of Lakeland.
“That’s one of the reasons we have decided as a commission to step that up in our next budget. It's one of the reasons we encourage developers who want to develop affordable housing in the Lakeland area to contact us because we want to think about creative ways to make that happen,” he said.