Thursday, February 14, 2008

Retirees as a Strategy

Sumter, SC has developed an explicit strategy of recruiting in retirees. I had dinner with five real estate developers to discuss what they were doing in this area.

Louis Tisdale related to me, “We held a couple of retiree focus group charettes just a couple of weeks ago to try to find out what people liked about our town and what we needed to improve. Some of our main selling points are our central location that allows someone to be able to drive back to their hometown in less than a day; the fact that we are not Florida; our close proximity to both the mountains and the ocean; our climate or as one of the retirees said ‘you don’t have to shovel sunshine’; our lower cost of living; and our very friendly people.”

Louis shared the report from those sessions. Here are some other take home points that I gleaned from it:

Halfbackers—Several of the participants had retired to Florida but moved halfway back home to get away from the weather, overcrowding, wanting more seasonal variation and not liking all of Florida’s hurricanes. This trend will become bigger in the next several years, in my opinion. In 2006 Florida had the first net out-migration of over 75 year olds.

Military Friendly—The presence of the local air force base was a big plus for this segment. Just as I’ve seen towns try to actively recruit back their alumni, a town like Sumter could do the same with the number of military who were once stationed in Sumter and hopefully have fond remembrances of their time there.

Swan Lake & Trails—Becoming much more important as the young retirees want to stay active and continue to exercise. You can’t have too many trails!

And then there were the negatives, most of which looked solvable to me. They included eating options (fresh baked bread, non-chain deli, local restaurants, higher end grocery and Starbucks); news’ stands; SC Blue Laws; and professional sports teams (I said most were solvable—not all!).

Tisdale also told me that one other negative was, “If I was looking for a job in retirement, I wouldn’t come here.” That is a tougher obstacle to overcome, but with the trend toward more entrepreneurs in the retiring age group and the ability to virtually work from everywhere with the proliferation of broadband speeds increasing, that is going to be an argument that fewer retirees are going to be focused upon.

Sumter is at an advantage in being on the cutting edge of actively recruiting in the huge Baby Boomer generation of retirees.

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