From the Ground Up

by Phil Hardwick

Published: October 28,2002

Every eight seconds, another person in the United States turns 50. And communities all over the country are putting out welcome mats hoping that when the group becomes retirees they will move to their towns.

Here come the Baby Boomers. Today there are more than 74 million people in the 50-plus age group. By 2020, there will be 115 million. Add 10 years, and the trend is clear.

At first glance some might wonder why communities would want a bunch of old people moving into their towns. They increase the need for medical services, they can’t drive worth a darn and they’re just not much fun.

A second glance proves otherwise. Although the need for medical services increases, this age group has the means to pay for those services. It may be frustrating to be behind Granny, but the “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” has fewer accidents than younger drivers. Of course, “fun” is a relative thing.

An article in the Oct. 18 edition of The Wall Street Journal reported that Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida has formed a new commission to evaluate Florida’s competitive position when it comes to attracting retirees. It seems that “mature migrators” are becoming less likely to choose the Sunshine State as a retirement destination.

A study found that in the 1970s, 26.3% of the migrators chose Florida, but that in the 1980s only 23.8% did so. The data for the 1990s is apparently going to show another drop. The commission is charged with looking at ways to retain Florida’s position as the nation’s most desirable retirement destination, evaluate Florida’s current attractiveness to baby boomers, recommend ways to improve Florida’s competitive position, recommend programs to ensure adequate services are available at all stages of aging and much more.

Shall we save the commission some time? Retirees are being attracted by other states, retirees are staying closer to home and, frankly, Florida is losing its luster as a safe, warm, friendly place. Also, it’s becoming more and more expensive to live in Florida. Housing costs are high, building permits are difficult to obtain and income is taxed by the state. The aforementioned article points out that even the former head of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs was discouraging retirees from moving to Florida five years ago because of increasing concerns about medical costs to the state as retirees live longer and face chronic illnesses.

Mississippi jumped in the retiree attraction game early on and its Certified Retirement Community program has received national attention. The Mississippi Development Authority has a screening program that evaluates communities on things that are important to retirees affordable cost of living, low taxes, low crime rate, quality medical care, recreation, education/cultural opportunities and a warm, welcoming community. The agency’s Website — http://www.mississippi.org/retire/ — promotes the 20 Certified Retirement Communities in Mississippi. The Website showcases each town and offers profiles of some of the retirees who have moved to the Magnolia State. There has been some discussion about why there is a 20-limit number, but that’s another story.

Other states are also marketing and certifying retirement communities in their states. Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia have vigorous campaigns going on.

The secret weapon in the retiree marketing game is — drumroll, please — grandchildren. How many people do you know who have relocated to be close to their grandchildren?

Retirees also want to be near a college or university. Hattiesburg and Oxford have exploited their proximity to local universities and have received national media attention and national rankings in retiree and quality of life surveys. Hattiesburg was even featured in a New York Times article last year on its retiree program. That kind of promotion is worth a lot.

So, why all the desire for retirees? While the Florida official mentioned above is probably correct in the long run, retirees are coveted because they bring disposable income, they don’t pollute, they volunteer and they don’t commit crimes. The study in Florida revealed that retirees add $1.6 billion to the Florida economy even after the state spent $1.3 billion on services to them. That’s an investment that Florida does not want to lose.

Mississippi stands to gain a lot with its retiree attraction program. Climate, low taxes, low home ownership costs, recreation and more are what retirees are looking for. The value they bring is worth the effort to recruit and welcome them to Mississippi.

Phil Hardwick’s column on Mississippi Business appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is phil@philhardwick.com.


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