December 5, 2005
The fastest-growing ZIP code in Gilbert is overwhelmingly white and educated, upper-middle class families with young children.
Most residents in the 85296 ZIP code live in new homes, moved here from another state and drive more than 30 minutes each way to their white-collar jobs, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures and 2004 demographics compiled by market researchers.
In 1990, when the previous census was taken, the ZIP code didn’t even exist although some marketing studies show the general area had an estimated 5,848 residents. By 2000, the census counted 32,694 residents in the new ZIP code, created in the mid-1990s.
In the past four years, the ZIP code’s population has surged by 50 percent, to an estimated 49,653 people. By 2009, it is expected to have doubled over the 2000 census count — to 68,610 — according to figures provided to the Tribune by the California-based research firm Claritas.
Mike Anderson is on the front lines of that growth as a sales agent with Standard Pacific Homes. The company’s 2003 salesman of the year, Anderson isn’t surprised by the response to the builder’s newest project, The Villages at Vista Dorada at the intersection of Val Vista Drive and Queen Creek Road.
"Of the 81 lots we have available here, we’ve sold 35 in the first eight weeks of opening," Anderson says.
A Gilbert resident himself, Anderson says he has seen the community grow over the past few years and is excited about being part of its transformation. "Stick around a while, you won’t even recognize the place," Anderson says.
People who are flocking there, however, should easily recognize each other — and the values they share.
The current ethnic makeup shows a population that is 84 percent white, about 13 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian and 4 percent black, according to 2004 Claritas figures. Compare that to Phoenix, which reports a white population of about 71 percent or Mesa with a white population of about 80 percent, according to census data.
Still, race is not likely a major factor in the decision to move to 85296, says Arizona State University assistant professor of anthropology Lyle Steadman. People are moving because of the area’s family-friendly reputation — not its ethnic makeup.
"You want to be around people with family interests," says Steadman, who takes a Darwinian approach to social behavior. "Basically all humans, like all life, are doing things aimed at leaving descendents."
The community is a Mecca for matrimony and child-rearing — more than 85 percent of households surveyed in 2004 were families, with an average household size of about three people. The divorce rate also is relatively low. Fewer than 6 percent of men and 8 percent of women were divorced. And more than a third of the residents were children under the age of 19.
The people of 85296 also tend to be well-educated. The vast majority of adults age 25 and over -- more than 95 percent — are at least high school graduates and more than 30 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In Phoenix, 76 percent of the residents have a high school degree; in Mesa, the statistic is 84 percent.
More education leads to better salaries and that holds true in the 85296 ZIP code where the median annual household income is $85,732. That’s up considerably from 2000, when the census reported a median household income of just more than $72,000 a year. In Phoenix that year, the median household income was $41,207; in Mesa, it was $42,817.
Although recent California transplant Maureen Kuzman says she is a little concerned about enduring the Arizona summer, she says getting a great deal on a home was her first priority.
"The benefit of having a more comfortable lifestyle is the tradeoff, and it’s a worthwhile tradeoff," Kuzman says.
More than 45 percent of the ZIP code’s residents reported being in white-collar jobs — management, professional or related occupations, according to the census. Another 28 percent were in sales and office occupations. Fewer than 10 percent of the community’s residents worked in the service sector and only 8 percent reported they were in the construction business.
The area’s agricultural roots have long been plowed over into new commercial development and subdivisions — only 74 people reported employment in the farming, fishing or forestry fields.
And most of those families had moved in the previous five years.
Only about 11 percent of residents had lived in their home before 1995, primarily because more than 83 percent of homes in the ZIP code were built in 1995 or later, according to the census. Today, reflecting even faster growth, 93 percent of the homes are less than 10 years old.
Nearly all the residents — 98.6 percent to be exact — live in detached, single-family homes. And Claritas reports 95 percent of housing units today are owner occupied.
Most families — 61 percent — had two vehicles. And the residents make good use of their cars. Only 6 percent of ZIP code 85296 residents traveled less than 10 minutes to work, the census reports.
And while commercial development is booming, jobs are still out of the area. More than half the residents who work report driving more than 30 minutes each way to their job, according to Claritas’ 2004 report.
And within the 85296 ZIP code, the newest homebuyers are flocking to the Spectrum development, which is expected to have 3,000 residential units near the project’s hospital, auto mall and outdoor shopping center. Through September, 795 permits were pulled for Estates at Spectrum and Spectrum at Val Vista, which is expected to translate into nearly 800 new ZIP code households within a year.