First Coast's Draw Invites New Wave; Job Opportunities, a Lower Cost of Living and Less Traffic Draw Many People from South Florida and the Northeast

Article excerpt

Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

Gary and Barbara Farnsworth think of Amelia Island as paradise.

Especially compared to Boca Raton.

"We saw it change so dramatically down south, with the traffic and the people. It wasn't a pleasant place to be anymore," Barbara Farnsworth said. Hurricane Wilma was the final straw.

So the Farnsworths became one of the nearly 100,000 households that moved to Northeast Florida since 2005, according to Internal Revenue Service counts of tax returns coming in and out of the area.

In 2007, one in four of the net gain in newcomers hailed from South Florida. Even more - about a third - are migrants from Northeastern states.

They come for the jobs, the cost of living and the better - yes, better - traffic.

Jim Nolan, 38, and DeeDee Nolan, 33, are some of the escapees. The Nolans moved to Avondale in 2006 from Marathon in the Florida Keys, which is in Monroe County.

Friends here imagine the vacation paradise they left. The Nolans say they got the better deal.

They loved the Keys and met there, but found themselves getting "Margaritavilled-out," Jim Nolan said.

"[DeeDee] said, 'would you ever consider leaving the Florida Keys?' I'd been there long enough to know it's not a place I'd want to raise a family," he said.

Now due to have a baby in September, DeeDee Nolan said the family, which includes her 12-year-old daughter, enjoy the living space in Jacksonville - twice the space for half the price - and travel opportunities not available in the past.

David Denslow, an economist at the University of Florida, said the migration patterns are tied to the housing market boom - and now, bust - in South Florida.

"The farther south you went, the more house prices rose," Denslow said.

Families like the Nolans have fled southern areas in droves, seen in declining school enrollments there.

With Northeast Florida's economy more diverse than the construction- and tourism-based economies to the south, many of the people who move here came for work. That goes for the influx of people from the Northeast, too.

Michelle Gilliam worked in the television industry in Manhattan for years, but she and her husband moved here for the job opportunities.

Gilliam, who works in public relations, wasn't sure what to expect when they arrived from Hoboken, N.J. But they find their neighborhood in Springfield is full of people like them - transplants from Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

"I'm in my 30s and married, but when I go out to the beach it reminds me of New York. I've been impressed with the fact that there really is a good nightlife," Gilliam said.

Some new residents worry that the things that draw people here could ultimately disappear if too many people catch on. …