I’m feeling awfully wealthy. As I write this, it’s mid-July, peak mango season, and these luscious orbs of sweetness are falling at our feet. We have five trees in our yard, and we’ve been gorging at the kitchen sink as the juice drips down our arms, then giving bags of mangoes away to friends, family, colleagues and chefs at our favorite restaurants. I leave buckets outside the gate with a sign that says, “Please, help yourself.” No one I’ve talked to is sure why we’re experiencing such a bumper crop this year—apparently, it’s the right combination of sun, rain and growing cycles—but I’m enjoying the bounty while it lasts.
Sarasota is enjoying a wealthy moment as well. A bumper crop of rich people from around the country continues to settle here, as the hundreds of millions in downtown luxury condo construction illustrates to anyone driving by. This annual Platinum issue, with its growing list of luxury retailers and professionals catering to the wealthy, is evidence of the market demand for stuff we won’t find at Walmart. (I have to admit, when the editors compiled our Sarasota’s Gazillionaire’s Guide, the $37,950 per person African safari, starting from the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on a luxury jet with full reclining seats and a gourmet chef, sounded appealing.)
All those wealthy newcomers are the result of a number of factors: retiring baby boomers who are inheriting trillions in wealth, Florida’s absence of an income tax that draws high income people, and Sarasota’s triumvirate of riches—our sun, beaches and cultural scene.
Travis H. Brown, who runs the website howmoneywalks.com, does a county-by-county analysis of the U.S. using IRS data to calculate how much money is moving into an area. From 1992-2016, he calculates that $9.71 billion in taxable income migrated to Sarasota. This doesn’t count the dollars newcomers bring that aren’t taxed.
Top feeder markets? In order, Cook County, Illinois; Oakland County, Michigan; Fairfield County, Connecticut; Westchester County, New York; and Hamilton County, Ohio. He anticipates even more people from these counties will bring their wealth once he can measure the impact of the 2017 federal tax reform, which he says is hurting the wealthy in blue states like Connecticut and New York. (Brown recommends that Sarasota tourism and economic development officials concentrate their efforts in these markets if they want to continue the influx. “It’s the flock effect,” he says. “We see patterns like ducks on a flyway. People follow friends and family. Chicagoans were here yesterday, there are new ones coming today and more tomorrow.”)
But what is the impact of all this money? Does it trickle down? Or does much of it tend to go back up north where these people have ties and children? Brown says people moving here feed all sorts of industries from construction to restaurants to financial services, and some also start companies. “Early retirees get an itch to do something else after two or three years, especially the baby boomers, and they start second and third careers,” he says. “They’re doing it right now in your community.”
The other sector that benefits, according to Brown, is the nonprofit industry. If you want to convince the state of Connecticut that you’re now a Florida resident—even though you still own a $5 million home in Fairfield—start donating to charities in your new hometown. Whether they give for that reason or pure altruism, it’s undeniable that wealthy newcomers enrich and expand our charities.
So how long can Sarasota count on this influx of wealth? In the short term it will last at least until the next downturn. In the longer run, baby boomers inheriting their parents’ wealth will be streaming in for the next couple of decades.
I thought about my mango crop and the trickle-down effect of the mangoes in the buckets lining the sidewalk outside my home. They aren’t going to change anyone’s life, and they’ll be gone by the time you’re reading this, but right now, life tastes a little sweeter.