Archive for Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When it comes to attracting retirees, Lawrence could learn from Columbia

October 26, 2011


Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series examining the push to attract more retirees to Douglas County. You can find part 1 here.

In Jayhawk country, it can be painful to admit that Columbia, Mo., has beaten us at anything. But when it comes to pitching its city to retirees, our rivals to the east beat us by nearly 20 years.

As a Douglas County task force considers how best to attract retirees to Lawrence, Columbia offers a look at what happens when a Midwestern college town goes beyond recruiting students and reaches out to the other end of the age spectrum.

In the early 1990s, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce launched a “2000 by 2000” campaign. The goal was to attract 2,000 more retirees to Columbia by the year 2000 than the U.S. Census had predicted would be living there.

The chamber advertised in national publications and reached out to University of Missouri alumni, reminding them of the good times they had during their college days.

Columbia leaders on attracting senior citizens

Don Laird, president, Columbia Chamber of Commerce:

“The thing that worked well for us was getting national attention, getting ranked as a top place to retire. It’s all about visibility. Reaching out to alumni is also key to remind them of the positive experiences they had while going to college in Columbia.”

Amy Byergo, director, University of Missouri Adult Day Connection:

“We’re all reactive to the needs of seniors. Things are going along fine and then a crisis happens, and then we react. We should plan ahead to meet the challenges that are coming down the road.”

Jean Leonatti, CEO, Central Missouri Area Agency on Aging:

“Once you make a city more age friendly, there are benefits for mothers with young children, for people with disabilities. If you’ve got bigger print on signs, lower curbs, that benefits everyone.”

David B. Oliver, assistant director, University of Missouri Interdisciplinary Center on Aging:

“If a community is serious about attracting older people, housing is important. Older people want smaller homes. They want one level. They want wide corridors and no steps. They want to be near services. If they’re not driving, they want to have access to transportation routes.”


The campaign was a success, say organizers and specialists on aging.

Don Laird, who worked on 2000 by 2000, estimates 2,600 people retired to Columbia in response to the campaign. Those retirees brought with them a surplus of cash and time, which they used volunteering or taking in cultural events. A recent study by the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau found MU sporting events add $118 million annually to the economy. Some of those people in the stands are retired alumni.

“We knew what they brought in terms of talent and impact on the community,” said Laird, now president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. “They were looking for a very active retirement.”

Side benefits

There is a growing school of thought that making a city more senior-friendly benefits the entire community. More benches on downtown sidewalks and wider store aisles make the city more livable for mothers with small children and people with disabilities, as well.

“If you’ve got bigger print on signs and lower curbs, that benefits everyone,” said Jean Leonatti, CEO of Central Missouri Area Agency on Aging.

Columbia put that thinking in action with a downtown crosswalk. Seniors were having trouble crossing the street in the time allotted, so the city added a few seconds to stoplights to make crossing easier.

Laird said not everyone thought attracting retirees was a good idea. There was concern that retirees who had no children or grandchildren in area schools would not support school issues at the ballot box. The city commissioned a study that found people who supported schools before retirement generally voted in favor of schools after retirement.

“Some of the precincts with seniors were some of the biggest supporters of Columbia public schools,” Laird said.

There was also a concern that catering to seniors would alienate the patrons of Columbia’s most vibrant businesses, its universities.

But Columbia remains a young town. Its median age of 26.8 hasn’t budged since the 2000 Census, and is up by just one year since 1990. The seniors who choose to move there like it that way, said David B. Oliver, assistant director of the MU Interdisciplinary Center on Aging.

“If you live in one of these university towns and you don’t like young people, you’d better move to Florida or Texas,” Oliver said.

Though college students keep Columbia young, aging baby boomers mean there are more people over 65 in Columbia than ever before. About 2,000 Columbians hit retirement during the last 10 years.

Oliver said a number of new retirement facilities have opened in response, as well as neighborhoods that are more senior-friendly.

Oliver, 69, and his wife recently moved from a four-level home.

On the street

Would you want to retire in Lawrence?

It’s a tough call — it’s about where family is, too. We like Lawrence, but also have family in Arizona and in the east.

More responses

“Older people want smaller homes. They want one level. They want wide corridors and no steps. They want to be near services,” Oliver said.

A better image

Columbia toned down its recruitment of retirees after it reached its goal in 2000, though the Chamber of Commerce does do some promotion through a “Retire Columbia” campaign.

For Leonatti, whose organization helps seniors live independently, one of the campaign’s most important legacies was presenting a more positive view of seniors.

“It certainly was a much more positive image than the government often portrays, of ‘old people need things and you’ve got to provide them,’” Leonatti said.


canyon_wren 6 years, 8 months ago

Having lived in both communities, I would have to say that Columbia NEEDED to try harder. It can scarcely compare with Lawrence for natural beauty, etc. It is too much like cities in the East.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 8 months ago

Oh, now it comes into focus. Mizer- ville is angling for the retiree community, so little ole Larryville needs to keep up with the Tiger Town folks. Gads! When is this community ever going to be served by a government that is working for the welfare of ALL its present citizens and not grandstanding for the social security set.

Beth Ennis 6 years, 8 months ago

my brother and sister-in-law are thinking about retiring in Columbia from Wisconsin. I've tried to talk them out of that and in to the Lawrence area. I don't know how they heard about Columbia, but they made a trip down there and really liked it. I think we do need to do more advertising.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 8 months ago

Let's make San Francisco, California a sister city. Man, can you imagine the tremendous visits to our city commission by the denezins of the City by the Bay?? What an elightening idea!!!!!

Scott Morgan 6 years, 8 months ago

Not sure Lawrence should even try to attract retires. Better fit would be making the place more friendly to young professional people. Lawrence is great for some. Not older folks.

Some of you sound as though you never get out of Lawrence. Forget the football sports c@@p, Columbia is a wonderful small city. Besides the LJWorld argument, remember this....

  1. Water sports/live music/many famous golf courses/dining within minutes, including nationally famous rafting and canoeing. Lake of the Ozarks, Pomme de Terre (a little gem) Might Mo, and miles and miles of crystal clear rock bottom streams.

Water older people can use, not like this ignorant state which offers little in the lines of cabins, or easily accessible shore fishing.

To use our lakes you must put in a boat and take one out, or pay through the nose marina fees. What fun for a 75 year old couple, tow a boat to some mudhole near Junction City, wrestle it in and out then die from algae consumption. Knock knock! there are places which you can park your boat and enjoy a fine meal or just explore the area. In Missouri.

You can rent an affordable full cabin and use of a boat dock for less than a stay at our Holidome within minutes of Columbia. *Try to get a wheelchair near Clinton Lake. Near Columbia one can trout fish a few feet from where your vehicle is parked.

I swear someday the local hippies will figure out a way to make even looking at Clinton Lake a crime. I can see the sign now, please keep our fake lake safe, look the other way when passing by. Use the lake, develop the silly mudhole. Missourians love taking tourist money from those who have Kansas license plates. They do too, by the millions of dollars.

We can't even keep a quick shop open by Clinton. My stars!

Glenda Susie Breese 6 years, 7 months ago

I thought the same thing wilber about the couple!

patkindle 6 years, 7 months ago

for anyone, especially retirees columbia is a zoo to drive in, and lawrence isnt quite as bad however, columbia has lots of hospitals and dont have to shuttle you via helicopter if you have a serious condition as many retirees can have both towns have similar amenities but, if you have a lot of money, and i mean a lot, and you live and breathe ku sports that is about all lawrence really offers, unless of course you live in minnesota

Glenda Susie Breese 6 years, 7 months ago

I haven" read all your posts,BUT having just been served a summons for personal property taxes from 2004,Here is what the hell I think.I was queen of the double wide and got it in my divorce(lucky me>not).I decided to move to florida after having a person knock on my door offering me 500. for it so he could(wink) move it to oklahoma, to be used for a battered womans shelter. To make a long story short,My taxes were paid thru june 1 2004. I was in florida by then basking in the sun.This was all explained to them, but now (after making a return to retirement in good ole larry town( 2006)I have to pay the back taxes on this they can ask for people who can afford their 10 million dollar library their high dollar new building on 6th street for retirees and the new comunity theatre( Which I cannot afford)Which the double wide was not even there!!!!My ex passed away in 2009.two weeks ago his name was in LJW for back taxes for(are you ready) for 2010... and the moral of the story is(if you are still reading) this retiree is thinking about the good life in florida where my meds are covered and my medi-gap policy is paid,because that is where the old rich people are.A lot of waste for the builders and their big taxed offers here in larryville where the town is run by the minority and Not sorry to say (they desrve the spoils of there hard work,but not on the backs of hard working tax paying people!

Glenda Susie Breese 6 years, 7 months ago

I don"t need a new home Wilber,I now live in a very nice home.I was the working poor,but when I retired my finaces have improved.I will pay the taxes they think I owe .no biggie.the biggie is,they should have the seniors in place before they built.Even if they build it they just might not com.What I am thinking by the time they figure out the working class are now the unemployed,the senors with the money are not there,it would make a great homeless shelter.meadowlark. But I am still P>Oed about owing personal property taxes on a place that was not there.OK I am over all this ...good night

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