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Relocating retirees make $194-million impact on state’s economy

The proof of the success of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) Hometown Retirement Program is in the numbers. From January through the end of September, an estimated 5,656 retiree households have relocated to Mississippi.

Diana O’Toole, program manager, MDA Hometown Retirement Program, said the numbers could even higher but it can be difficult in accurately counting the number of relocating retirees because of new privacy laws.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Charles Campbell at the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University shows that the certified Hometown Retirement Cities do attract more retirees aged 55 to 74 than would be expected otherwise. The 22 counties with Hometown Retirement Cities attracted approximately 341 more retirees per county during the period of 1995 to 2000 than they would have been expected to attract given their general county characteristics.

Campbell said the economic impact of retirees that can be attributed to the Hometown Retirement Program is approximately $194 million per year (in 2002 dollars) representing the creation of roughly 2,320 jobs per year.

Key factors

“Focus groups consisting of individuals who had recently moved to each county indicated that the most important factors attracting retirees to Mississippi were finding a place closer to children, the exemption on retirement income, the homestead exemption, the climate and the friendliness of the people,” Campbell said.

O’Toole said having statistical data which quantifies their marketing efforts is an important tool to objectively look at the effectiveness of current retiree attraction strategies.

“This enhances our ability to qualify what potential retirees find important in their retirement decision process and thereby aids us in providing assistance to the Certified Retirement Cities,” O’Toole said. “The study, funded through a public/private partnership between the MDA, the 19 certified retirement cities and the Tradition Master-Planned Community on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was conducted in three primary parts. In the first part, characteristics of retirement age migrants were examined, and models built to explain the relative importance of destination characteristics in attracting such migrants. These models were then used to estimate the economic impact of migration that can be attributed to the Mississippi Hometown Retirement Program conducted by the MDA.”

In the second part, the results of focus groups conducted in each of the certified retirement communities with recent in-migrant retirees were examined. In the final part of the study, the question of whether to make all income tax exempt for Mississippi retirees was examined. The study results indicated that this was not recommended at this time.

Relocating retirees usually invest in local real estate, and often bring considerable savings that are deposited in local banks. O’Toole said retirees can have the economic impact of attracting a new industry. And what retirees bring to a community can’t just be measured in dollars and cents.

“They also add to the life of the community,” O’Toole said. “The thing that makes our program so innovative is we are not just trying to get them to move to a gated community outside of town, sign on the dotted line and we won’t talk to them any more. What we want to do is bring them into the life of the community because they bring a spirit of volunteering.

“Baby Boomers aren’t really going to retire. They are just going to be doing something different. They may start a second career. A lot of the research is showing Baby Boomers will retire from the job they are in, but won’t retire totally.”

Weather, hospitality and economics

The climate and friendly people are often cited as reasons for choosing Mississippi for retirement. But economics are probably the number one draw. Retirement income isn’t subject to state tax, and homeowners over the age of 65 receive a break on property taxes.

“The cost of living is so much lower in Mississippi that money is going to go much farther,” O’Toole said. “It doesn’t take as much to live here so retirees have more expendable income to do the things they have always wanted to do.”

The MDA assists Mississippi Certified Retirement Cities in their preparations to market themselves as retirement locations and to develop hometowns that retirees would find attractive. To qualify as a Certified Retirement City, each town must pass through a three-month intensive screening process conducted by Hometown Mississippi Retirement.

Maureen Lipscomb, Hometown Mississippi Retirement director for Columbus, said she is looking forward to being featured in the spring of 2008 for an event sponsored by the state called “Roundabout.” A trip to retirement locations is advertised out of state and, for a nominal amount of money, prospective retirees can go on a bus tour of the area. This year the Roundabout tour will be focused on the Golden Triangle.

“Columbus is such a great location,” Lipscomb said. “It’s a beautiful, historic city. Although it is growing, it still has a small town feel.”

She added that retirees are very active in the community participating in continuing education classes in addition to arts and cultural events.

Seniors in Southaven are also very active, said Sherry Bennett, director of the Art and Cultural Affairs Department of the Senior Services Division, Southaven. In addition to retiree classes in yoga, tai chi, aerobics and quilting, seniors in Southaven enjoy line dancing. In fact, last year they won the line dancing competition at the Mid South Fair in Memphis.

“Our seniors are very well informed, and they stay busy,” Bennett said. “They are all just delightful. Seniors are stable. They don’t fill the schools up, and they don’t tear up the roads. They improve the community. Retirees are a very positive addition to a city. They are good neighbors.”

Southaven has the appeal of feeling like a small town but being located close to everything people need.

“We’re becoming a big city but keeping the hometown atmosphere where everyone knows everyone else and we try to take care of one another,” Bennett said. “Southaven is just a good place to live. We have excellent healthcare facilities, are near transportation hubs and have every kind of shopping and restaurant you could think of. Seniors like to get out to shop and to eat.”

Madison also has an active retiree population.

“The chamber’s retirement program coordinates the promotion of Madison and also creates programs and events designed for our city’s retirees through the Caboose Society,” said Rosalie Vassalo, executive director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce. “Our retirees stay active taking day trips, playing bridge, bowling, taking computer classes, attending meetings and much more.”

Since the inception of the retirement program, Madison has had more than 400 retirees relocate to Madison.

Madison touts its small-town flavor nestled close to the amenities of a large metropolitan area, and offers an international doorway to business, recreational and educational experiences through its sister-city relationship with Solleftea, Sweden.

“If retirement means relocation, spend your leisure years in Madison,” Vassalo said. “The state’s fastest-growing, most affluent city, Madison has been named Mississippi’s Most Livable City by the Mississippi Municipal Association, has been heralded as a “model city in the Southeast” by Southern Living magazine, proclaimed as one of the to 50 cities in America by CNN/ Money Magazine and just recently declared as ‘One of the Top 10 cities in America to Raise a Family’ by Family Circle magazine.

While efforts to attract retirees to relocate to the Mississippi Gulf Coast were set back by the destruction from Hurricane Katrina, farther off the Coast in towns like Picayune and Hattiesburg, Katrina actually resulted in more retiree relocations.

Susan Walker, vice president of the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg, said after Katrina many retirees relocated there from the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area.

“We are still having retirees move here from around the country as we focus our marketing efforts in the Northeast and California area,” Walker said. “We have been very pleased. Our retirement base continues to grow here. We have attracted more than 1,300 retiree households since the program began in 1993. There is no sign of it slowing down. A lot of times people move on word of mouth. So as more retirees move here from other areas, they will tell friends and family back home that they really like it. Then their friends will come and check it out, and some will decide to stay here.”

For more information on the Hometown Retirement Program, see the Web site www.visitmississippi.org/retire.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.

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