Everyone is moving to Florida – or so it seems in recent years, as the state's population has boomed thanks to decades of migration by northerners. In fact, 1,000 new residents arrive each day, and more of them hail from New York than anywhere else. One of the fasted growing states in the U.S., Florida is now the third most populous – after California and Texas – though it ranks only 22nd in land area. Given the large number of “Snowbird” retirees, Florida has the highest percentage of senior citizens (age 65 and older) in the nation at 17 percent.
The Sunshine State's gross domestic product (GDP) is also growing rapidly again post-recession, and in 2014, it eclipsed the national GDP growth rate. Florida boasted the eleventh fastest annual growth rate in real GDP in 2014, and it ranked third in highest gain in real GDP when compared to the 10 most populous states. Leading industries include tourism (Hello Mickey!), agriculture (with more citrus grown in Florida than anywhere else in the U.S.), construction, aerospace (heard of Cape Canaveral?) and international trade.
Florida's appealing subtropical climate helps to create strong demand for housing, particularly retirement and vacation homes. The median home value as of 2015 was $198,886, while the median rental price was $1,195. Often a bellwether for national real estate trends, Florida is now seeing noteworthy appreciation in real estate again post-recession. From 2012-2014, two of the top three counties for real estate appreciation in the U.S. were in Florida: Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island (59%) and Port St. Lucie (37%).
Tourists flock to Florida for its warm weather (South Florida has an average annual temperature of 68.5 degrees in winter), family-oriented attractions, sandy beaches on both coasts and national and state parks. The top travel destination in the world, Florida is home to Walt Disney World Resort, the world's largest theme park, as well as Universal Studios, Sea World, Busch Gardens, Cypress Gardens and the country's only undersea state park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park near Key Largo. A record 97.3 million tourists visited the state in 2014, with a record 1.14 million Floridians employed in tourism-related jobs the same year.
Certainly, the most unique and ecologically significant natural attraction in Florida is the Everglades, the world's largest sawgrass swamp covering about 2,000 square miles in South Florida. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it won federal protection as a national park in 1947, although the area's survival continues to face major threats from development. In 2000, the state and federal governments began the largest wetlands recovery program ever attempted in an effort to preserve the shrinking Everglades, home to threatened and endangered species such as the Florida panther, American crocodile, West Indian manatee and bald eagle.
One species native to the Everglades that has come to symbolize Florida is the American alligator, mascot of the University of Florida Gators. The state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates the Florida alligator population at 1.3 million, and in 2014, it received 13,599 "nuisance alligator" complaints. Found in all 67 of Florida’s counties, these large toothy reptiles can turn up in swimming pools, backyards and golf courses as real estate development continues to encroach on their natural habitats. In 2013, 12 people reported non-fatal alligator bites in Florida. Pets often fare worse, however.