Ken Cardinal of Diamondhead refers to what he does to promote retirees moving to the Coast as similar to a reformed alcoholic trying to get others to “take the cure” and get on the sobriety bandwagon.
For Ken and his wife, Cheryl, the “cure” was relocating to South Mississippi after retirement. The Minnesota couple started looking at sites in the Sunbelt for retirement because they wanted to escape long, cold winters.
“We knew there had to be some place on this earth where the weather is a little more reasonable,” says Cardinal, who works with the Coast Chamber of Commerce Hometown Ambassadors program to recruit relocating retirees. “We feel so grateful to Mississippi for getting us to come here that being involved in the Ambassadors program is our small way of saying ‘thank you’ to Mississippi. But to be honest with you, I don’t want too many people down here. I like it just like it is.”
Friends back in Minnesota questioned the couple’s choice of Mississippi. The Cardinals ended up finding out what the Mississippi Coast has to offer by accident. They traveled to Gulf Shores for a winter vacation, but couldn’t find a place willing to rent to them because of their small dog. Mississippi proved more pet friendly, and the couple ended up in Long Beach.
After the first few weeks of normal tourist activities, the Cardinals were captivated by beautiful natural scenery, excellent restaurants and friendly residents.
“We found that one of the greatest treasures of Mississippi is the kindness, the generosity and the real sincerity of the people,” Cardinal said. “Naturally we also looked at economics, the tax benefits for retirees including no state tax on your retirement income and property tax exemptions on the first $75,000 of your home’s value. The economics weren’t the most important thing to us, but they counted on the plus side. When you are retired you can’t look forward to an annual increase in wages. So anytime you can save a buck, it is great.”
The Cardinals looked at retirement communities in Texas, Arizona and Florida before picking the Mississippi Coast, which they consider the best keep secret of all the retirement communities. They found the other retirement areas glitzy, overcrowded and lacking in age diversity.
“There is nothing wrong with old people, but I want to also hear the laughter of kids playing,” Cardinal said. “I want to seeing people going to work in the morning, and not just retirees complaining about aches and pains. I want to drive the beach and not see it filled up with high-rise condominiums like in Florida. Here I can go from Waveland all the way to Pascagoula and not see high rises obscuring the view.”
Brynn Joachim, who is director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Retiree Partnership operated by the Harrison County Development Commission, said volunteers like the Cardinals are an important part of the effort to attract relocating retirees. The volunteers help with phone banking, writing letters to prospective retirees interested in the area and giving tours of the Coast. There are also quarterly events to officially welcome relocating retirees and introduce them to Coast amenities. For example, a welcome event Nov. 17 included attending a performance of the Gulf Coast Symphony.
The development commission has documented bringing in 212 new retiree households to the Coast over the past 18 months. Joachim said the number of relocating retirees is likely much higher than that since not everyone retiring to the Coast goes through official channels.
Since the retiree recruitment effort began a year and a half ago, about 8,500 leads have come into the office. Of those, about 2,000 are considered active leads.
“Prime prospects have been contacted multiple times to assess their needs and interests,” Joachim said. “Our volunteers then try to fulfill those needs in the best way possible.”
Each relocating household is considered the equivalent of 3.7 manufacturing jobs. The average retiree couple has a net worth of about $300,000, and each new household creates an additional 1.5 jobs.
“They spend 90% of their money locally, and they make up 80% of a community’s volunteer base,” Joachim said. “Regarding the volunteer aspect, what intrigues people about the Coast is there are so many groups to be involved with. We like to market the area as an active place to retire. You can volunteer at your local library or museum or take a part-time job. You can be as active as you care to be on the Coast. That is something we have to offer that some of the other communities cannot offer.”
Harrison County is the only county in the state that is a certified retirement community. All the rest are cities. Because it is sponsored by Harrison County, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Retiree Partnership has an emphasis on Harrison County. But if someone is interested in Bay St. Louis or Ocean Springs, partnership representatives are going to show it to them because what benefits one city will benefit the others, Joachim said.
The biggest challenge attracting retirees is getting them to look at Mississippi rather than states better known for retirement communities. The tax advantages in Mississippi are a tremendous asset, and Joachim said people like the Coast region for its beaches, access to water and the many different cultural and recreational amenities including the casinos. Availability of medical facilities, especially those on the various military installations, is also a plus.
“People are surprised at how far their money can go, and the good array of different types of housing to meet their needs,” Joachim said. “We do have a need for more patio-style homes and affordable condominiums. Many of the retirees we speak with are impressed that our neighborhoods are not cookie-cutter communities like you would see in Florida. They are real neighborhoods with character and a sense of history to them.”
Master-planned community coming
Many retirees are interested in planned communities, so the addition of the Tradition Community master-planned community to the Coast is expected to be a big draw. “That will be a tremendous plus for our program,” Joachim said.
Jim Stackpoole, president of Tradition Community Development Corp., said the company expects to have permits approved in order to break ground in May. The first housing is expected to be available about a year from now.
The development encompasses 4,600 acres on Highway 67, 10 miles north of 1-10. And while retirees will be recruited, the development will offer housing suitable for all age groups.
“We will have housing for young families, first-home kind of situations, as well as retirement-oriented housing,” Stackpoole said. “It is big enough that we can appeal to all segments of the market. We believe it will offer something different, a lifestyle that has not been available. It will be an active adult community with golf and all types of recreation available. Having the national forest directly adjacent to us is a huge benefit for people to take advantage of trails through the forest and the quiet and comfort it provides.”
Stackpoole said he believes the Coast is a huge military retirement market because of the proximity to the benefits of Keesler Air Force Base. He added that it is a good civilian retirement market, as well, and that in particular residents from the Midwest are attracted by warm weather, golf and entertainment provided by the casinos.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.