Lawrence’s latest economic development initiative: Attract older folks to settle here

A little gray may be golden for Lawrence.

At least that’s what community leaders want to find out. City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting will consider creating a task force to help Lawrence become a destination for retirees looking for new homes.

“I tell you, there isn’t a business in this country growing faster than Baby Boomers Inc.,” said Hank Booth, who is leading the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce’s Senior Council.

The council is recommending the creation of a joint city-county Senior-Retiree Attraction Task Force. The idea has some support on the City Commission.

“It is a booming market,” said City Commissioner Hugh Carter, who has been working with the chamber on the topic. “They would bring a lot of experience and wisdom to the community, and they could be a big help to philanthropy.”

Plus, a new report put together by the chamber says attracting retirees could be a significant form of economic development. The report cites a state of Georgia study that found when a retired couple moves into a community it has the same impact on the economy as 3.8 manufacturing jobs. The chamber’s report also cites national statistics that say people 50 years old or older own:

• 77 percent of the country’s personal financial assets.

• 80 percent of all savings deposits.

• 50 percent of all corporate stocks.

And they make 48 percent of all domestic automobile purchases.

The report, however does note some potential drawbacks to creating a larger base of retirees. Concerns about whether retirees would vote for additional school bond issues, and the potential for health care services to be strained by individuals who have outlived their health care coverage are two of the larger concerns.

But Booth said a task force would look for ways to target affluent retirees who would produce more benefits than costs to a community.

The task force also would study ways to market the community — targeting Kansas University alumni would be a major strategy — and would look at how other cities across the country have grown their retiree population.

“What I really would want the task force to do is get all of this information tied together so we have a plan for making Lawrence and Douglas County the most attractive retirement community in the Kansas City metro area or in the state of Kansas,” Booth said.

Carter — who previously managed an assisted living facility in California — also said the task force will have to look at what areas Lawrence is lacking when it comes to retirees. He said more housing types that are suitable for retirees probably would be a significant issue.

Funding at some point also may become an issue. Booth said ultimately money to market the program could be needed, but neither Carter or Booth said any immediate funding was required to study the issue. When money is needed, Carter said he has seen other communities successfully raise private money to fund marketing efforts.

“There certainly are groups that would benefit from having more retirees here, and probably would jump at the opportunity to be on the front end of that effort,” Carter said.

City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.