If I were inclined to promote economic development, I’d try something new and guaranteed to produce quality, recession-proof jobs for far less than the $27,000 per job spent on average in Kansas to create new ones by the eco-devo gurus. (Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit Study, August 2008)
I’d make this River City the most senior-friendly in the country and recruit them with the same zeal that Kansas University athletics goes after basketball players.
Every senior persuaded to move to Douglas County is the equivalent of a new job — one that pays better than a living wage. The average Social Security retiree gets 40 percent ($1,153 per month) of his or her income from the government and the other 60 percent from a pension and/or other resources. Total average monthly income is approximately $2,900 per senior ($35,000 annually). That is $5,800 for a couple ($70,000 annually).
Talk about a clean industry with growth potential. The first of 78 million baby boomers are now retiring — a 36 percent expansion of the 55-65 year old population over the next 10 years. The single fastest-growing employment sectors over that same period of time, not surprisingly, are projected to be gerontology and senior health care.
Seniors don’t get laid off. They stay longer. The average life expectancy of 65-year-olds today is 18.4 years. Two-thirds of the corporate welfare recipients and their jobs are gone in about half that time. (Post Audit study) For seniors you don’t have to build new industrial parks, (or clean up the ones left behind), destroy fertile farmland, contend with industrial transportation costs (financial and environmental), or live in fear of the next economic turndown.
1. Have portable health insurance (Medicare)
2. Have at least one secure paycheck (Social Security) and often two (a pension)
3. Bring a lifetime of skills and experiences that are frequently volunteered to the community
4. Support cultural events and social service organizations
5. Expand the work force as part- time and incredibly dependable workers.
6. Come in all shapes, sizes, colors, makes and models and enrich the community
7. Have sown their wild oats
8. Walk softly on the land; mostly one car and not two.
9. Expand the economy by: a. Fueling growth in desirable, clean industries (health care and service), and b. Fostering family tourism — visits from children and grandchildren.
People of all ages have always been drawn to Lawrence by its history, eccentric college professors, young folks with strange body piercings, profusion of peculiar causes and their advocates, eclectic shops and their keepers, unique restaurants, vibrant downtown, diverse and tolerant population, artists and musicians, homes (both historic and funky), progressive university, and basketball.
Add to that the fact that Lawrence has been lauded nationally as one of the top 10 best places to retire (U.S. News & World Report, 2007). The attraction: Population less than 100,000, a good hospital, a college town with a lively cultural life (Rand McNally’s Places said it had more culture per capita than any other city under 100,000 in the country), walkable (No. 1 in Kansas, No. 38 nationally, according to Prevention Magazine), close to a large urban center and international airport, and convenient public transportation (most recently saved by a far-sighted electorate).
The single major impediment to this is a confiscatory property tax. I’d suggest a three pronged attack:
1. An ongoing marketing effort to attract seniors generally and bring home former Kansans and KU alumni specifically
2. A yearly subsidy equal to 50 percent of the total property tax on a median-priced home for individuals (approximately $100 per month) age 60 or older, who have not lived in Douglas County at any time within the last five years, and who establish and maintain a permanent residence (owned or rented) within the county.
3. Fund and staff a new, larger, state-of-the-art senior center to replace the existing vibrant, but physically and fiscally limited, one.
No subsidy until the ‘job’ is actually created (senior moves here). No subsidy when the job ends (senior leaves here).
The return on a public investment in baby boomers and those amenities that attract them is far more promising than the generally poor results of subsidizing so-called free enterprisers with tax breaks.
If Lawrence wants good, clean, sustainable growth, it would do much better with faithful baby boomers who come to stay, than with fickle, out-of-town business owners who leave when the subsidies end.