Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bring on the baby boomers

August 20, 2009


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.

Baby boomers:

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.

Jerry Harper is a semi-retired attorney and longtime Lawrence resident.


canyon_wren 8 years, 10 months ago

This makes a lot of sense. Lawrence seems like a wonderful place to retire, to me.

Godot 8 years, 10 months ago

And just think of all the green crematoriums that we'll need!

labmonkey 8 years, 10 months ago

But how will we keep all those damn kids off our yards?

Richard Heckler 8 years, 10 months ago

Jerry Harper is smarter than the average Chamber of Commerce/real estate guru's that have spent the last 25 years expanding the tax base/expanding our tax bills.

Thus far we have economic displacement = wreckanomics = higher user fees & higher taxes

By Kim McClure

July 24, 2009

To the editor:

The July 14 editorial asks, “What’s downtown going to look like five, 10 or 15 years from now?” The answer can be known, and the picture is not pretty.


Lawrence has enough spending to support about 4.1 million square feet of retail space, but the City Commission permitted developers to expand the supply to over 5.5 million square feet.

Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown.

The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted. The taxpayers’ $8 million parking garage stands largely empty. The Hobbs-Taylor building and the 600 block of Massachusetts should be the top performing spaces in the community, but they have significant vacancies.

The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

The developers’ short-term gain is now our long-term loss. Managed growth would have prevented much of the problem and would have protected and enhanced our downtown.

It will take many, many years to absorb this surplus space and, until this happens, it will be hard for downtown to compete. We can only look forward to many years of high vacancy and disinvestment. We need a City Commission that knows how to pace the growth of supply so as to protect our unique downtown.

McClure is from Lawrence

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