- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - In the years since Florida’s population growth dropped to its lowest level in decades, the state’s expansion has rebounded the most in inland communities in South Florida, the suburbs of Orlando and the Fort Myers area, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Florida cities, towns, villages and places with populations greater than 20,000 people grew the fastest from 2010 to 2015 in Parkland, Cooper City and Doral in South Florida; St. Cloud, Ocoee and Winter Garden in suburban Orlando; and Fort Myers and Bonita Springs, according to the Census.

The growth in the South Florida communities was helped by good schools and land being cheaper inland than on the beach side. Metro Orlando has been among the state’s leaders in job growth, and the Fort Myers area has rebounded from the housing crisis with a return of migrating retirees.

In the midst of the housing crisis and Great Recession, Florida’s population growth dropped to its lowest level since the 1940s. Florida grew by about only 75,000 people between 2008 and 2009, and without increases from births and an influx of foreigners, Florida’s population would have declined, according to Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

Parkland, St. Cloud and Cooper City - which all have populations under 50,000 residents - each grew by almost a quarter in the past five years. Doral and Ocoee each grew by more than a fifth, and Fort Myers and Bonita Springs each grew by under a fifth.

Last year, Jacksonville was Florida’s largest city with a population of almost 855,000 residents. It was followed in population size by the cities of Miami, Tampa, Orlando and St. Petersburg. The state’s smallest Census-recognized place was the city of Lake Buena Vista, the municipality controlled by Walt Disney World that has a population of 11 residents.

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