A Publication of WTVP

With billions of dollars at stake, Greater Peoria needs to embrace this growing population.

Numerous articles have stated that “the baby boomer retirees are coming”—and they are indeed arriving daily! According to Fact Book on Retirement Income 2010, a study by LIMRA, a global association of financial services companies, there were approximately 41.3 million retirees in the United States as of March 2009, or 13.7 percent of the total population. That number is expected to grow to 65.6 million, or about 19 percent of the population, by the year 2025, and 80.6 million by 2040—nearly double the number of today’s retirees!

Everyone knows the baby boomers are coming, but what most people don’t get is the huge size of the retirement community already within our region today.

Economic Impact of Retirees
How important are retirees to the economic stability of Peoria? A livable community with programs for retirees not only means jobs for its residents, it also means sales for area businesses and revenues for public schools and parks. Consider the impact of retirees with this simple “gray head test.” Ask yourself, or any business owner: What would happen to your bottom line if many of the “gray heads” were to leave town and move to another part of the country? Do this at any restaurant, bank, hospital, retail store, doctor’s office, car dealer, law office, salon or eyeglass retailer, and you will soon realize the extent to which retirees are goers, doers and spenders—with the largest amount of disposable income of any age group.

On May 26, 2011, the Peoria Journal Star ran an excellent article, entitled “Census: Peoria Gets Younger,” which included the latest set of data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Buried within this article was a chart of the age breakdown in the Tri-County Area, revealing that 73,570 residents had reached the age of 60 and up. Each of these retirees, on average, pumps more than $30,000 each year into his or her respective communities, according to a 2006 presentation at Bradley University by Robert McNulty of Partners for Livable Communities. That equates to annual expenditures of more than $2.2 billion at Tri-County businesses! The article that needs to be written now should be called “The Retiree Population in the Peoria Area is Huge!”

Retirees buy homes and condos, eat in restaurants, shop at retail stores, and attend sports and cultural events. Not only are they responsible for pumping in excess of $2.2 billion into our region each and every year, they also donate many volunteer hours to better our community. According to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, adults 65 and older volunteered 1.7 billion hours last year, with an economic impact of more than $37 billion! Myth has it that most retirees settle in the sunny and sandy areas of this country, but it’s simply not true! So, what is needed to retain today’s retirees, as well as those about to retire?

Getting It
In 2005, delegates at the decennial White House Conference on Aging stated that “one retired family moving into a community is equal to the creation of three new factory jobs.” They also said that the number one factor in retaining or motivating retirees to move to a certain community is the offering of “non-health related activities,” such as those exemplified by the communities that “get it.” According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, one community that does get it is Brunswick, Maine. A town that attracts retirees even from southern cities, Brunswick offers a plethora of music, theater, art and entertainment, as well as senior university programs and small-town charm.

An exceptional example of one of Peoria’s non-health related activities is the Peoria Municipal Band. Started more than 75 years ago in the midst of the Great Depression, the Municipal Band serves as a quality-of-life, non-medical activity that’s vital to drawing retirees to Peoria—as well as a major factor in retaining the 73,000+ retirees already here. These are the retirees adding more than $2.2 billion to the Peoria-area economy each and every year. What a fabulous return on investment!

So is the band successful? You bet it is! Last year’s performances drew some of the biggest crowds in its history, with total attendance estimated to be well in excess of 2,000 people, mostly retirees—the Peoria-area “gray heads.” Realizing that retirees interpret the band as a sign that Peoria gets it, the Peoria City Council has determined to stop reducing the Peoria Municipal Band’s budget.

Another shining example sits atop one of Peoria’s hilltops. In 1994, within its Continuing Education program, Bradley University started its retiree program, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Currently, more than 1,000 retirees are enrolled at OLLI, attending a wide variety of classes together. In fact, I researched and compiled information on Peoria-area retirees and their financial impact on the community into a report for one of OLLI’s study group projects. Bradley University gets it.

Of course, we can only reap the benefits of these programs if we continue to support them. Consider the potential consequences if these types of activities start disappearing from the community:

Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg!

It is critical to keep and develop this senior market, and to understand, as most of our area mayors do, that embracing retirees must flow across the entire region, unconstrained by political boundaries. These “golden eggs” must be held onto with the understanding that by working together, the entire region will prosper. Yet, there are still some very intelligent individuals in our communities who just don’t get it—which is like flashing a red neon sign telling retirees to “move to a part of the country where your civic volunteering and retiree dollars are valued!”

A Work in Progress
In Mayor Jim Ardis’ 2013 State of the City Address, he noted that neighboring communities do not compete with one another for substantial job creation, innovation, quality of life, economic growth and social progress. “The competition isn’t between the cities within our regional community—the competition is between our overall metropolitan area and other areas of similar size and offerings.”

Yes, Mayors Jim Ardis (Peoria), Dave Mingus (East Peoria), Gary Manier (Washington), Jim Dillon (West Peoria) and Mark Allen (Peoria Heights) get it. They understand that “this is the way we have always done it” is no longer a viable excuse. They also realize that today’s retirees are goers, doers and spenders.

With ongoing shortfalls in tax revenue and expenses increasing each year, our leaders are working to balance their respective budgets—and that’s the right thing to do. They refer to painful moves in downsizing or rightsizing as a “work in progress,” and they’re in need of informative input by taxpayers to assist them in making intelligent decisions.

Remember that the mayors, councilmen and women, and county board members want your input as seen through your eyes, from your real-life experiences. So communicate your wants and needs—and tell them your personal reasons! Your voice is important, and now is the time to be heard.

Last September, Peoria City Councilman Ryan Spain spoke about the importance of “retaining and expanding Peoria’s existing businesses” as the first rule of economic development. Likewise, the retention of our existing—and growing—population of retirees should not be forgotten. iBi

Kenny Carrigan is available to speak on the topic of retirees in the Peoria-area economy. He can be reached at (309) 688-0809 or [email protected].