PORT CHARLOTTE — Planners noticed something was missing from the state’s population projections for Charlotte County: Babcock Ranch.

So they added an estimate of 31,450 Babcock residents to the county’s 2045 population. That brings the county’s possible population in the future up to 260,550 in 25 years, which is a 46% increase from today. Babcock had its first residents move-in in 2018, and is authorized for up to 50,000.

This was part of the report to the Punta Gorda-Charlotte County Metropolitan Planning Council Monday.

If 260,550 sounds like a lot by 2045, it’s down from what the state analysts thought about 10 years ago.

These and other projects are part of the county’s emerging Long Range Transportation Plan. The county has to submit one of these every five years to keep getting state funding for road work.

Ten years ago, state planners with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research said Charlotte County would have 261,578 people by 2035.

“You can see overall that forecast number has come down from where it was 10 years ago,” said Tindale Oliver consultant Wally Blain.

As the recession hit, planners five years ago dropped that to 207,214 by 2040. Now, the numbers are on the upswing again, Blain said.

The increase in employment is also projected to be greater than previously thought, Blain said, due in part to anticipated new industry moving to land around the Punta Gorda Airport. Also, he said, the Sunseeker resort, when it is completed in 2021, will dramatically affect the county’s service industry employment.

Employment numbers are tricky, Blain said. Projections are that about 150,000 will be living in the county by 2045, but only 100,000 people will be working in the county. That means a lot of local people will be working outside the county. Still more will commute in, but live elsewhere.

Commissioner Chris Constance said he is disturbed by the fact that all projections are increasing except for school enrollment. Later, Constance partly corrected his stance, noting that enrollment is expected to increase, but not nearly as much as they thought. Student enrollment is the only downward trend of all the state population projections for the county.

Five years ago analysts predicted enrollment would increase by 34,942 by 2040. Now, they project enrollment will increase by only 26,706 by 2045. Despite population growth, Charlotte County has struggled with maintaining school enrollment in a region including many retirees.

Commissioner Joe Tiseo pointed out the estimates change a lot over the years and not to draw too many conclusions.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead in talking about closing schools,” said Tiseo.

MPO board members unanimously accepted these first elements of the long range plan, including population and employment projections along with goals and objectives.

The public will have a chance in February to weigh in on the next part of the report, involving where they think the county should spend its transportation dollars. The MPO is scheduling workshops to review transportation needs.

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