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City should recruit retirees

It looks to me like seniors really could be considered a new industry for Lawrence

Big business in Lawrence may mean attracting more people who have retired from it, according to a new report commissioned by an offshoot of Douglas County Senior Services.

Leaders with Douglas County Senior Services and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday unveiled a study that suggests Lawrence may have as much to gain economically from attracting retirees as it does by attracting manufacturers and other industries.

"It looks to me like seniors really could be considered a new industry for Lawrence," said Eldon Herd, a Lawrence retiree and chairman of the Vantage Pointe Foundation, a private fundraising arm for Douglas County Senior Services and other aging organizations.

The study — conducted by researchers at Kansas University's School of Social Welfare — will be presented to city and county commissioners to determine whether there is interest in creating a formal program to attract retirees to the community. Among the findings of the study:

  • During the next 18 years, it is estimated that at least 400,000 retirees per year will move to a new state. Small cities within driving distance of a metropolitan area are expected to be among the destinations of choice for retirees.
  • Nationally, the over-50 age group has annual income of $35,000 per person and possesses 80 percent of all savings deposits in the United States.
  • A Georgia study found that in 2005 the state attracted 15,000 people age 65 and over, which added $408 million in income and spending power to the state's economy. The study estimated that a typical retired couple had the same economic impact to a community as the attraction of 3.4 manufacturing jobs.

John Glassman, director of Douglas County Senior Services, said the benefits of attracting retirees are expected to outweigh any additional strain retirees may place on the area's health care or social service systems. "Those retirees who are most likely to move often are the healthiest and the wealthiest," he said.

If city and county commissioners express an interest in moving forward, another study outlining what steps the community would need to take to better position itself as a retirement destination likely would be conducted, Glassman said.

The city's status as a university community, close to a major metro area with housing costs less than the coastal areas is expected to be a drawing card. But Tom Kern, president and CEO of the chamber, said a formal marketing program would need to be developed, likely with a strong emphasis on attracting KU alumni who may have an interest in retiring to Lawrence.

"I'm not sure people always think about how much income a retiree can bring to a community," Kern said. "That maybe hasn't been real high on the radar screen, but maybe it should be."