Does Mount Airy want to gain official status as a retirement community and actively recruit older individuals to come to town?
That is a question to be answered over the next six months by a committee the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted unanimously this week to form. This time frame would meet a requirement for having such a group in place at least six months before an application to become a certified retirement community is filed with the N.C. Department of Commerce, which would bestow that designation.
A $10,000 application fee will be required, should the committee believe that seeking the retirement-community designation is worthwhile for Mount Airy.
“My wish right now is just to form the committee and let them look at this,” said Commissioner Scott Graham, who introduced the matter during a recessed meeting of the city council earlier this week.
“I’m just asking that we look at this,” Graham added of the concept of Mount Airy being officially known as a retirement community — and paying the $10,000 involved with that. The committee, to be made up of local tourism and economic-development officials among others, will identify the pros and cons of the idea and present the findings to the commissioners.
“If we like it, fine,” Graham said of the idea. “If not, we just drop it.”
Retirees have become a key market for communities with tourism interests, since they usually have both time and money on their hands. They also can be sought as permanent residents for the same kinds of reasons.
“I think it would just be another tool in recruiting retired people with a disposable income to come here,” Graham said of the retirement community certification.
Local businessman Burke Robertson suggested that Mount Airy explore the designation, according to Graham, who said he found others in the business community to be receptive to that as well as fellow municipal officials.
The group the commissioners decided to form will include six to eight members, according to discussion at this week’s meeting.
Jessica Icenhour Roberts, director of tourism and marketing for the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, and Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, already have expressed interest in serving on the committee, Graham said.
Getting the group in place by July, the goal of the commissioners, will fall within the six-month window for the January application period.
Upon being certified, the state Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development would help market and promote Mount Airy to retirees.
Older Residents Plentiful
Mount Airy seems to fit the profile of a retirement community from a demographic standpoint. As of 2010, nearly 23 percent of its residents were age 65 or older, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. That percentage was only about 13 percent for North Carolina as a whole.
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said at this week’s meeting that the city appears to have most everything in place needed for the special designation.
An initial evaluation of the community and technical assistance would be provided by the Community Development Division of the Department of Commerce.
The N.C. Certified Retirement Community Program was created in 2008 by the state General Assembly to aid localities positioning themselves to attract retirees as an economic- and community-development strategy. This has coincided with what Department of Commerce officials describe as a “robust in-migration of retirees to the state.”
Lawmakers recognized that North Carolina offers a quality of life desired by the mature community, and established the program as a vehicle for localities fitting that mold.
Lumberton was the first to gain retirement community certification, which occurred in 2010. As part of its involvement, a comprehensive survey and assessment was prepared of various elements reflecting Lumberton’s readiness for retiree recruitment.
It was mentioned this week that New Bern is another city designated as a retirement community.
“I don’t know what it means,” Commissioner Jon Cawley said, “but I know they (New Bern leaders) were sure promoting it the last time I was down there.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.