Communities aim to mine golden years
Baby boomers represent approximately 28 percent of the U.S. population, and 3.4 million of them who were born in 1946 will be able to start collecting Social Security in 2008, with 72.4 million more to follow. A number of state and local governments are counting on that wave of retirees to revitalize lagging real estate and construction markets, create new jobs and generate more tax dollars. Economic development planners are now targeting the young retirement market through marketing campaigns and special programs to encourage individuals in the age group to live in their cities.
People over 50 control four-fifths of the money invested in savings and loan associations and own two-thirds of all shares on the stock market, according to Boston-based financial consulting firm Celent. “[Retirees’] incomes arrive in their mailboxes through pensions, Social Security and investments,” says Ron Manheimer, director of the Asheville, N.C., Center for Creative Retirement (NCCCR). “This revenue stream is inflation-proof and is spent locally.”
Recognizing the boon seniors could have on Mississippi’s economy, the state legislature created the Hometown Retirement Program (HRP) in 1994 and began offering an income tax exemption on pension payments for residents over 65 to attract retirees to the state. The HRP features 21 certified retirement cities selected for their affordable cost of living, low taxes, quality medical care, low crime rate, recreation, and educational and cultural opportunities. The cities are listed at www.visitmississippi.org/retire, and in a free book offered through the site. Retirees who have relocated to the towns are featured in promotional brochures, streaming videos on the Web site, and television commercials, says Program Manager Diana O’Toole.
The HRP’s most recent survey found that retirees add $194 million annually to Mississippi’s economy. Retirees’ median annual income is $33,000, they spend 80 to 90 percent of their income locally, and they create one job for every 1.79 households relocated. Jobs are created in health care services, construction, retail, real estate and the hospitality industries. Retirees also contribute volunteer time and money to local organizations.
Former Mena, Ark., Mayor Jerry Montgomery began a campaign to tap the retiree market in his hometown after attending an HRP retirement conference in the 1990s. “Most cities aren’t treating retirement as an industry — which it is,” Montgomery says.
Mena’s marketing campaign focuses on its clean mountain air, outdoor activities, low crime, newly expanded hospital, community college and two senior centers. Today, Mena is home to retirees from Florida, California, Texas, Indiana and Iowa.
College towns such as Athens, Ga. — home of the University of Georgia (UGA) — are popular with retirees. “Athens’ retirees are drawn to our cultural offerings,” says Hannah Smith, communications manager for the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our climate’s good. We’re out of the hurricane zone with four distinct, though mild, seasons.” Local businesses, such as The Georgia Club, a privately owned 1,300-acre golf and active lifestyle community, market themselves to retiring UGA alums.
According to Valdosta, Ga.-based Triple Crown Hometowns — a consortium of south Georgia chambers of commerce — 50 retiree households are equal to 185 manufacturing jobs, contribute $16 million in liquid assets to financial institutions and spend $1.65 million annually. But, Smith says retirees are more than just economic assets to the community. “They think and act youthfully,” she says. “Retirees add another layer of vibrancy to our college community.”
Patricia Frank is a Beaufort, S.C.-based freelance writer.