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Gray is Gold: Gaining 50+ residents would be good for Florida

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St. Petersburg, Fla. – There’s no disputing that tourism is a huge Florida industry and adds immensely to the state’s economic health.

But Social Security alone contributes 738,000 jobs to Florida per year, not including all the other ways in which Florida’s 50+ population boosts Florida’s economy, its communities and its culture.

You may hear such Economic Impact of Aging Florida - Facts You Should Know regularly in coming months as AARP Florida focuses on educating key business and political leaders on the huge benefits to the Sunshine State that those 50+ bring.

“I was surprised that some business and political leaders actually see an older population as a negative, rather than a positive,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP’s Florida state director.  “The truth is, Florida is fortunate to have as many 50+ residents as we do – nearly 8 million.  And attracting relocating or retiring Boomers should be an important part of our economic growth strategy.”

At a conference on Florida’s economy a few years ago, Johnson heard an economist bemoan the damage that the Great Recession had done to the state’s real-estate market.  But at least there was one bright side, the economist said – older retirees were no longer flocking to the state to buy homes.  “I was floored,” Johnson said.

At the time, Florida home values had plummeted, homebuilders were closing their doors and construction workers were standing in unemployment lines.  “At AARP, we don’t see any of those things as bright sides in any way,” Johnson said.  “The fact is, encouraging Boomers to come to Florida is a great boon to our state.”

In a Economics of Aging Myths published in Florida Trend magazine, AARP Florida ticked off the big numbers:

-       While there are many older people of modest means, in general older consumers wield enormous economic power.  In 2012, people age 50 or older accounted for 51 percent of all consumer spending in the U.S.  Eighty percent of the wealth controlled by individuals in the U.S. is held by people 50+.

-       Older people increasingly create jobs and businesses.  About one in four entrepreneurs in 2012 was age 50+.  Merrill Lynch found in 2013 that 71 percent of those intending to retire planned to include some work in retirement, and just over half planned an “encore career” that combined deep personal meaning with some additional income.

-       While Florida traditionally has led other states in attracting retirees, the Boomers are creating their own trends.  In recent years, other states such as North Carolina, Texas and Tennessee have ramped up recruitment of relocating Boomers.  Florida has no state agency assigned to attract relocating retirees.

“It’s no longer going to be sufficient for Florida to simply assume that because we have many retirees living here now, that will always be the case,” Johnson said.  “It’s time for Florida’s elected and business leaders to start actively thinking about how we can attract a healthy share of the 50+ population.”

A big part of making Florida communities more attractive to 50+ residents lies in how communities are designed, and how state services mesh with the needs of older people, Johnson said.

That’s one reason why AARP Florida has reached out to community leaders in St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and other communities, seeking to educate them about the 50+ market and how to make our communities work for those with a little gray in their hair, Johnson said.

“There’s great news,” Johnson said.  “The best recent surveys show that relocating Boomers want many of the same things that the much-sought-after ‘young creatives’ want – a lively cultural scene, restaurants, museums and opportunities for lifelong learning.  The No. 1 must-have to attract relocating Boomers is a top-notch health-care system, which will benefit people of all ages.”

Johnson urged Florida voters to press candidates in the 2014 elections to provide specific details on what they’d do to attract and retain relocating 50+ residents from elsewhere in the country, and also how candidates for office would make Florida communities more livable for people of all ages.

“With 10,000 Boomers a day hitting the traditional retirement age of 65, now is the time to have this discussion in Florida,” Johnson said.

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