The recent influx of retirees to Lawrence is a huge contribution to both the social and economic vitality of the community.
A study released this week by Douglas County Senior Services and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce makes valid points about seniors being viewed as a new industry for Lawrence. The study notes that communities, like Lawrence, that lie within easy driving distance of a metropolitan area are popular with retirees who are relatively affluent and make a strong contribution to the local economy. Lawrence has the additional asset of being home to Kansas University, which is a natural draw to retirees who attended KU or are attracted to the many sports and entertainment opportunities it provides.
As great an asset as retirees are, however, it would be a mistake for the community to focus on retirement enterprises to the exclusion of other economic development efforts. Retirees coming to Lawrence support the local real estate market, but Lawrence already is overly dependent on residential property taxes to support its tax base. Local retail and service businesses would benefit from additional retiree customers, but such businesses provide mostly low-wage jobs.
This is not to say that Lawrence shouldn’t try to capitalize on its attraction as a wonderful place to retire. In fact, the community should make an even greater effort to accommodate retirees and capitalize on the many skills and experiences they bring with them.
But attracting retirees is only one part of a healthy economic development strategy for Lawrence. The recent study cited figures from Georgia that estimated the economic impact of a retired couple in that state was equal to attracting 3.4 manufacturing jobs.
That may be true, but in order to provide better balance in its tax base and more jobs for its residents, Lawrence also needs those manufacturing jobs, as well as high-end jobs tied to research businesses and high-tech industries.
We love the fact that so many retirees want to make Lawrence their home — and not just because of the money they contribute to the local economy. They help make Lawrence a better, more interesting and stimulating community.
However, it is not a single cure-all for the local community.