Tupelo becomes state retirement community

CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories

AUTHOR: MOULDE

Tupelo becomes state retirement community

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Tupelo was certified Friday as a Hometown Mississippi Retirement Community, marking another key step in the area’s economic development program.

The city became the 14th Mississippi community to be included in the nationwide effort to attract retirees to the Magnolia State.

Although the city is the local program sponsor, the effort is designed to promote the surrounding area to out-of-state workers seeking a retirement haven, officials said.

“It’s really a big day for our community,” Mayor Jack Marshall said before accepting the certification from Jimmy Heidel, director of the state Department of Economic and Community Development. “It’s really a great opportunity. We’re going to move forward from here.”

“I’m looking forward to Tupelo’s program becoming a great, great, great success,” said Heidel, who pointed to the area’s long history of regional cooperation. “What’s new? You’ve always worked together.”

Studies show that attracting retirees can be a virtual gold mine. Bringing one retiree household into a community is economically equivalent to adding 3.7 manufacturing jobs, the studies show. People who relocate to retire typically have retirement incomes averaging $33,000, almost all of it disposable, and assets of $250,000 to $300,000, Heidel said.

“Ninety percent of that income is spent locally,” Heidel said.

Retirees generally buy homes in their new locales and bank their assets there. But among the greatest boons is the availability of their talents, acquired through decades of work – skills most are willing to donate to community projects.

People 50 years old and older make up 85 percent of all volunteers in the country, Heidel noted.

The state’s program, begun in early 1995, uses media advertising and personal appearances throughout the country to spread the word about Mississippi’s retirement attractions. The program drew more than 31,000 inquiries in its first 10 months, Heidel said.

Inquiries are forwarded to certified cities, which can then send information on their areas to the prospects. The state is also organizing tours of certified communities for potential retirees.

Criteria for community certification include a low crime rate, top-notch medical facilities, good affordable housing, and good recreation and cultural facilities – “first-class programs that have the state seal of approval,” Heidel said.

Among key factors retirees look for in relocation are money matters such as living costs, housing, climate, personal safety, working opportunities, services and leisure living, surveys show.

Tupelo has a goal of attracting 100 retiree households in the next three years, said Wendy Collier, a city planner who headed a 35-member volunteer committee that spearheaded the certification effort.

“We are excited about letting retirees know about Tupelo, Mississippi,” Collier said. The city will also do some advertising on its own and has established an “ambassadors” corps of recent retirees to talk to prospects, she said.

The program is also linked closely with the state’s tourism effort. The bulk of relocating retirees say they first saw their eventual retirement locations as tourists.

Other Northeast Mississippi communities that have been certified in the program are Aberdeen, Corinth, Holly Springs and Oxford.

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