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Tampa Tribune (KRTBN)

Diversity Takes Root In Tampa, Fla.

By Kathy Steele, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

December 1, 2003
Copyright ©2003 KRTBN Knight Ridder Tribune Business News. All rights reserved.

Dec. 1--TAMPA, Fla.--America's melting pot is getting stirred and reinvigorated by new migration patterns that are making Tampa Bay a destination of choice for a growing number of restless pilgrims seeking sunshine and new economic horizons.

For the past half dozen years, Desi Martinez has divided his time between Oklahoma and Texas. But six months ago the 30-year-old former "Army brat" chose to live in Tampa, where he and his business partners operate a commercial collections company.

"There are opportunities here compared to other parts of the country," Martinez said. It's not as "fast" as Miami in lifestyle, and the cost of living is not as high, he said.

Transplanted Anglos still lead the Florida influx. But Hispanics, Asians, blacks and other races and cultures are settling in this subtropical paradise in larger numbers than ever before.

"I've been predicting this trend for the last 10 years," said Hillsborough County's Hispanic affairs liaison, Tony Morejon, who has seen the number of people contacting his office soar.

People think of immigrants from abroad when they talk about diversity, he said. But that's only part of the immigration story.

Another part is represented by people who came to America's largest cities from other countries and are now looking to move again, to smaller American cities such as Tampa.

"They are coming from New York, Connecticut, Chicago, Puerto Rico and New Jersey," Morejon said. "Salaries are bit higher now and conditions are better. They're tired of the cold weather."

A report demographer William Frey prepared for the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank, examined U.S. Census Bureau information to map patterns of international immigrants moving into cities and analyze the mix of residents -- foreign and domestic -- moving out.

Among metropolitan destinations, the Bay area had a net gain of more than 100,000 residents who moved here from other areas of the United States between 1995 and 2000.

That trend is continuing, Frey said.

Based on a growth rate of 4.57 percent, the Bay area ranked 10th among 15 metropolitan areas in net gains of residents moving within the United States.

Their motivations for starting over are the same as everyone else: They want jobs and an affordable standard of living.

Shelley Hill's experience reflects those trends.

Hill, who earned an engineering degree at the University of Kansas, came to Tampa for a job after trying life in Palm Beach.

Besides the job, Tampa also offered something not found in a larger city such as New York or Los Angeles -- affordable living, she said.

"If I was in any other metropolitan city, I'm not sure I could afford this kind of in- town living," she said. Hill lives with her 13-year-old daughter Haley in a town house in south Tampa.

Hill, who is black, also is part of a more racially diverse mix of residents here now.

The state is sort of a "hybrid" with areas of great diversity and others that are predominantly white, Frey said.

In the past, Miami was considered Florida's headquarters for diversity. That's still true, he said. But the exodus from Miami between 1995 and 2000 saw a net drain of 93,774 residents, including many minorities. Some of those people stopped in the Tampa Bay area.

Census information compiled by Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission shows that about 10,000 residents from Miami- Dade and Broward relocated in Hillsborough.

The losses experienced by Miami and other cities, including New York, Chicago and San Francisco, also are making those cities more diverse, Frey said, because they lose some of their white populations as well as minorities.

At the same time, the diversity among the residents who leave is higher than in previous decades, changing the mix of races and cultures in their new homes.

Frey expects this expansion of the melting pot to continue.

"The question is how fast the pace will be and how much and how fast will the assimilation of groups happen," he said.

It's not always a swift process, said Kimi Springsteen, Asian-American affairs liaison for Hillsborough County.

Many Asians struggle with the language barrier, and work for years at jobs for which they are overqualified based on education and employment in their native countries, she said.

They may start by living in the urban core, she added.

"They work to re-establish themselves and move to the suburbs," Springsteen said.

Hillsborough's fast-growing south county area offers mixed results on diversity. Subdivisions and apartments are sprouting along the U.S. 301 corridor.

The county's biggest influx is from Central American residents, who when they first arrive, tend to settle in the inner city or ring suburbs where apartments are cheaper, said Jim Hosler, research director for the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission.

There aren't as many comparably priced options in the more rural south county yet, he said, so it's probably not as diverse as other areas of the county.

But that is changing.

"I would say a lot of second- generation immigrants move into the houses," Hosler said. And south county is picking up a number of Hispanics because that's where their parents lived as migrant workers, he said.

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