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Palm Coast Today And Tomorrow

As Palm Coast and the surrounding area emerge from the economic death grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, the metaphor of a butterfly transforming in its cocoon from caterpillar status might be applicable.
Certainly, businesses have re-opened and bars and restaurants are serving patrons in house instead of only by take-out or delivery services. But that is happening everywhere. What makes the scene a bit different, perhaps even more interesting to watch, is that in Palm Coast, its existence post the pandemic seems to be one of identity change.
From a slew of new housing developments that attract younger families to what was once dominated mostly by a retiree population to a changing of the guard in the city’s political arena to the addition of more names to the area’s roster of medical service providers including an offering of advanced medical training opportunities, Palm Coast is changing.
The question is: What does Palm Coast look like in 10, 20, 30, even 50 years? Its answer is one its leaders and business community seek to find as notable numbers of newcomers opt to make Palm Coast home and its business community looks to expand.

A City Getting Younger
Every Year

In 2000, the median age in Palm Coast was 51 years. Fast forward to 2018 when the median age dropped to 48.9. Now, as of 2021, the median age is 47.6.
On the surface, the difference between 2018 and 2021 might seem somewhat insignificant. But when one considers the people represented by those numbers, the story takes on a much different focus.
For instance, in 2010, persons age 65 and older accounted for just shy of 23 percent (22.97) or 17,267 people of the city’s population of 75,180.
The evidence of youth in Palm Coast is more than statistical.
The newly installed splash pad at the 27-acre James F. Holland Memorial Park at 18 Florida Park Avenue draws the city’s youth – and young at heart – to cool off from the heat. Featuring 10,000 square feet of space to jump on its assortment of aquatic animals and run around them dashing in and out of spurting water, the splash pad that opened in mid-May 2021 in Palm Coast is the largest such feature in any municipality in the country.
“It has become a staple for families,” said Brittany N. Kershaw, director of public information and engagement with the City of Palm Coast’s City Manager’s Office, noting the splash pad was designed with age differences in mind. It includes a toddler section that is basically a miniature version of the space for the older kids that has a myriad of sea creatures such as octopus and whales for climbing on and running around. “It certainly is a huge hit with the kids – especially for summer. “And the toddler section is much more easily accessible to the little ones.”
The splash pad also sports several huge hula hoop-like rings with sprinklers pumping water out of them as well as a covered picnic and seating area where those accompanying the younger users can monitor activity and be protected from the sun.
“This community is truly becoming more multi-generational,” said Kershaw.
She ought to know. Kershaw has lived in Palm Coast since age four. Growing up and attending local schools, she has had a front row seat to the city’s continuing transformation and now a role as stakeholder in helping shape the city’s future.
“Working for the City of Palm Coast has always been my dream,” said Kershaw. (12>)
“How cool to be able to promote the place where you live?”
As the mother of two young children, she believed Palm Coast was a great place to live and raise a family long before she was hired by the city.
Now, Kershaw said, she gets to work with a dedicated staff that is “doing an incredible job” for the area residents and helping to move Palm Coast “in the right direction.”

Higher Paying Jobs Needed

Similar to other parts of the state and country as a whole, Palm Coast’s business sector and economy is moving toward pre-pandemic productivity. But again, in Palm Coast, the story is a bit different than other areas.
A bit more than 20 percent of the city’s economy is based in hospitality (hotels and restaurants) and tourism. While important to the overall economic picture, the paychecks garnered in those jobs rarely are sufficient to pay mortgages and living expenses associated with the city’s housing market which has seen a significant uptick in the past six months as families fleeing COVID-19 in northern states have flocked to Florida – including Palm Coast – causing the real estate market to spike.
In the past year, the average home price in Palm Coast increased by 16.5 percent, according to RocketHomes.com.
For example, the median list price for all homes in June 2021 was $279,546, according to the website. In real dollars, that 16.5 percent equals an extra $39,551 a buyer seeking financing in 2021 must qualify for in order to purchase as compared to what was required in 2020.
The increase in housing costs does not equate with the cost of living increases seen in paychecks or even the prevailing wages in the local area, points out Greg Blose, president and CEO of the newly rebooted Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“Currently, many of the workers in the city’s hospitality and tourism industry are commuting an hour each way from an area they can afford to live on a $15 an hour paycheck,” he said. “That has to change. Palm Coast needs more affordable housing to keep those workers and their earnings here.”
He’s been active testifying to the Flagler County Commission in favor of proposed changes to the county’s development restrictions. Area developers and realtors petitioned the commission to allow case-by-case determination with relaxed requirements to determine the affordability of new housing.
“It is pretty scary when you look at the jump in property values,” he told Palm Coast Magazine.
“Yet, we cannot build it fast enough right now to keep up with demand.”
Blose said that as Palm Coast struggles to meet the housing demands of families seeking relocation there, the question of what type of housing is necessary also needs to be addressed.
Clearly, single family homes are a staple. But Blose also sees the need for additional multi-unit developments such as affordable apartments or condos. That would alter the city’s once primarily single-family home skyline.

Back to Work

The chamber’s “Return to Work Initiative” launched shortly after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – a Republican who once lived in Palm Coast – announced the state would end the additional $300 per week unemployment payment from the federal government to help those left jobless by COVID-19 pay their bills.
The initiative has its own Facebook page with an active news feed of potential work in the area.
That includes the return of shipbuilder Boston Whaler, Inc.-Global in once again establishing a production location in the Palm Coast area. At least 20 positions ranging from assembler to fiberglass laminator to mold repair technician and prefab wood cutter are currently listed as accepting applications. Waste Pro, Palm Coast’s garbage hauler, seeks at least five new workers. After all, when you have more residents, you are going to have more garbage and recycling to handle.
“We want to make sure we are being effective in trying to fill open positions locally,” said Blose, noting the chamber’s recent move to partner with Career Source Flagler/Volusia. “A lot of partnering with local business is going on right now to understand the needs and where the open jobs are. The chamber wants to help workers get plugged in today and get Palm Coast back to work.”

Medical Opportunities

All humans have medical needs – young or old and in between.
While the younger families represent pediatric and general family practice care, Palm Coast’s older residents – who on the whole across the country are living ten to 20 years longer than previous generations – bring physical demands from managing diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure as well as escalating rate of cognitive and neurological challenges.
And while Palm Coast is becoming “younger” as shown by the increase in elementary school enrollment, the numbers of the city’s geriatric population is not getting any smaller.
Current projections made by the University of Florida indicate Flagler County – where Palm Coast is the largest city within – is poised for major population growth.
Its 2020 U.S. Census numeration put the Palm Coast population at 115,000 people with 32,000 of those age 65 or older.
UF took those numbers and calculated based on the area’s recent growth trends the potential numbers for 2030 and 2040.
Blose labels those numbers “as much more than significant” with Flagler County’s general population estimated to be 138,000 in 2030; the 2040 population projection ranges from 157,000 to 190,000 with at least 42,000 aged 65 and older.
“Palm Coast has to consider a future where reputable data tells us our community is going to grow between 40,000 and 80,000 people and our senior population is going to increase by at least 13,000,” he said. “Number one, it is pretty obvious we are going to need more housing, more schools and more roads, but we also will need more medical care.”
Flagler Health+, which is headquartered just one county north in Saint Augustine in St. Johns County, and AdventHealth, based out of nearby Daytona Beach, both have new facility projects underway on the Palm Coast Parkway.
Next enter a new partnership between Jacksonville University and Daytona State University in Dayton Beach to establish a medical training facility in Palm Coast. The focus for this new program is not entry-level jobs, but advanced medical training for graduates of the two educational institutes who seek to further their career and hopefully, up their paychecks.
Currently, those two universities offer undergraduate medical training, but masters level coursework is not available locally.
“We have a real opportunity in Flagler County and Palm Coast to be the place that is educating the future medical profession of Florida that alone creates a massive opportunity to create decent jobs that in high demand locally and also statewide,” Blose said. “We are asking our residents and business leaders to help the new chamber develop plans and determine what we want that future to look like Now is the time to develop measurable plans.”

Seniors Still Anchor Palm Coast

More than 25 businesses are listed as ones providing assisted living and or elder services within the 51.7 square mile city. That number expands to upwards of 55 different listings when expanded to include all of Flagler County.
Palm Coast has 14 percent more seniors in its population when compared to Florida cities of similar size.
In 2016 and 2017, the Palm Coast City Hall was packed several times for meetings with the city manager to discuss improving senior services. Activists for the city’s elderly renewed demands for the following: pro bono tax help, handyman services, a city newsletter dedicated to the needs of seniors, help with Medicare and other insurance, health services and the facilitation of senior meet-ups. Oh, and yes, the establishment of a dedicated senior center.
That has yet to occur. However, the Palm Coast Community Center facilitates a number of senior events and services as well as promoting multi-generational activities.
“There are so many opportunities there,” points out Kershaw, who noted the center’s recent renovation makes it an even more attractive venue for community events. “Children’s activities are always going on there and there are a ton of activities for our seniors especially classes from arts to crafts to yoga. There is something available every day.”
The next few years up through the coming decade will reveal what kind of butterfly the current metamorphosis of Palm Coast produces. For those vested in the process, hopes are that it is one with the addition of affordable housing, enhanced economic opportunities, a blossoming medical education offering and the continuance of the hometown feel that makes Palm Coast an attractive setting for families and people of all ages.