The greater Sarasota area ranks as the top place in America to retire and the 16th best place in the country to live, according to the U.S. News & World Report Best Places to Live & Retire 2020-21 rankings, which were released Tuesday morning.
Emily Brandon, senior editor for retirement at U.S. News & World Report, said that a couple things pushed Sarasota – which finished second in last year’s rankings – ahead of Fort Myers.
“The first thing is Sarasota scored highly in a Gallup survey of well-being, with residents saying they have supportive social community relationships,” Brandon said. “In Sarasota, there are a lot of other retirees in the area.
“It can sometimes be difficult to make friends and form a new community when you move to a new place in retirement, but it can help if there are a lot of other retirees in the area as there are in Sarasota,” she added. “Sarasota also scored well on our desirability metric, which is where people age 45 and older are most interested in retiring.”
Being sequestered at home while practicing social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic may play a part in why Sarasota and the state of Florida jumped to the forefront of those looking to retire.
“I think a lot of retirees have been stuck at home for a really long time and are dreaming about a Florida beach retirement,” Brandon said. “Sarasota’s white sand beaches and palm trees are certainly fun to dream about and aspire to as you sit at home for yet another week.”
U.S. News & World Report gleans data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Labor that defines Sarasota as including Manatee and Sarasota counties, as well as the municipalities of Sarasota, Bradenton, North Port, Venice, Palmetto and Longboat Key.
Bradenton, North Port, Venice, Palmetto and Longboat Key.
The Best Places to Live rankings examined six indexes: Job Market, 21.6%; Value, 23.4%; Quality of Life, 25.7%; Desirability, 16.4% and Net Migration, 13%.
Rankings were assigned based on an August 2020 public survey, where people voted for what they said were the most important factors when choosing where to live.
Four of the top five best places to live were in Colorado, led by Boulder and Denver. Austin, Texas, slipped in at number three, followed by Colorado Springs and Fort Collins.
Naples, at 14, was the top-ranked metropolitan area in Florida, followed by Sarasota at 16 and Melbourne at 28.
“We’ve got a great mix of culture here,” said Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce CEO Heather Kasten, who alluded to a special mixture of great climate, a robust business community, favorable taxes, as well as strong arts and nonprofit communities. “It’s all of those things working in tandem that create a unique and special place where people want to live and build a life, whether they’re a young family starting out or toward their later years looking to retire.
“We have a unique mix that’s really attractive to people,” she added. “We’ve got the secret sauce.”
As Brandon noted, Sarasota and Fort Myers finished first and second on Best Places to Retire, while seven of the top 10 areas were in the Sunshine State.
“Our list was really dominated by Florida this year in a way that we haven’t seen in previous years; that was really interesting,” Brandon said. “People are really interested in a Florida retirement this year, in a wavy we haven’t seen in the past.”
She pointed to the combination of relatively affordable low homes, low taxes and high ratings for happiness and desirability.
The happiness survey was conducted by Gallup, Inc., while U.S. News & World Report conducted the desirability survey itself.
Port St. Lucie and Naples followed Fort Myers, with Lancaster, Pennsylvania, nudged into fifth place, ahead of Ocala.
Anne Arbor, Michigan, and Asheville, North Carolina – ironically a summer haven for many from Sarasota – followed, with the top 10 rounded out by Miami and Melbourne.
The six indexes used to evaluate that list are: Happiness, 22.5%; Housing affordability, 20.2%; Health care quality, 18.1%; Retiree taxes, 14.6%; Desirability, 13.5%; and Job market, 10.9%.
To determine the index weighting, U.S. News conducted an online survey in August 2020 of people at or approaching retirement age.
Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, quickly admitted that living near the beach as a “really powerful draw,” then quickly added the overall proximity of a rich urban environment to all of the area’s natural amenities broadens the appeal to future residents, as well as tourists.
“The draw of the outdoors in general, the beach and you’ve got Myakka, you see Legacy Trail and the extension,” Haley said. “All of the opportunities for outdoor recreation are really big right now.”
On top of that, she noted, the expansion of direct air routes to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport gives new residents the comfort that “I can still get back and see my friends up north.”
“Everybody’s found out what we already know, what a great place this is,” Haley said.