A representative of the N.C. Division of Tourism visited Mount Airy Wednesday to outline the benefits the city could reap as a state-certified retirement community.
But concerns were expressed by local citizens about the idea during a meeting in the Municipal Building, including what Mount Airy would get in return for the $10,000 cost of becoming certified and how any resulting gains would be measured.
Another issue raised focused on how selective state officials will be in tapping communities for retirement certification, given a desire by each to be unique among the many vying for retirees’ attention.
“I don’t think we would want to be in a program like this if it’s easy to get into,” said Jim Reeves, a member of a local Retirement Community Designation Committee.
That seven-member committee made up of municipal, tourism, economic-development and other representatives was formed in June to explore whether Mount Airy should seek official status as a retirement community. This would include concentrated efforts by the state Department of Commerce to actively recruit older persons to move here.
The committee held its first meeting last month, and after various pros and cons — along with questions — were raised then, members decided to invite Andre Nabors, tourism development manager for the state department, to explain the program in more detail.
Although its origins date to 2008, the retirement community certification program is just now gearing up, with Lumberton — a pilot city for it — and Asheboro the only two involved so far. Applications by two more cities seeking that status, Sanford and Marion, are pending, Nabors said.
“I think it has the potential to be a really good program,” added the Department of Commerce representative, who fielded a number of questions from Wednesday’s audience at the Municipal Building.
Cost An Issue
With money an important consideration for most anything nowadays, much of the questions concerned what the city would get for its $10,000 charge to enter the program. Not only would that sum be required if Mount Airy decides to apply for retirement-community status, it would have to be paid every five years to remain involved.
“Andre, what’s that $10,000 for?” asked Todd Tucker, the president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership and also a member of the retirement exploration committee.
“For that $10,000, the Division of Tourism is going to do the marketing part,” Nabors replied of the professional expertise that would be provided.
This would include listing information about Mount Airy on the state’s RetireNC.com web site along with links to the city government’s site; promoting this community at the annual AARP convention, which usually draws 12,000 to 16,000 people; using social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter; advertisements in regional and national publications; and various public relations activities.
However, Mount Airy likely would still need to do some marketing on its own, based on Wednesday’s discussion.
At one point, Betty Ann Collins, president and CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, asked how involvement in the state effort would actually help the community.
“What kind of measures are in place where they can judge the success of this program?” Collins said.
Nabors lacked a specific answer, but suggested that each municipality would have to do its own evaluation, possibly based on such factors as home sales to incoming retirees.
Along with paying $10,000 every five years, cities seeking retirement community status must develop a long-range plan outlining how it would serve the target population through various resources. Once an application is made, a five-member selection committee decides whether a city is accepted.
That prompted questions from Reeves and others about how unique Mount Airy might be if it does pursue entry into the program, given that others could be involved as well.
“I think the (selection) committee ought to be real strict about who gets in and who doesn’t,” said Reeves.
“The $10,000 is probably going to keep a lot of communities from ever applying,” Nabors said.
The local Retirement Community Designation Committee is to decide in the coming weeks whether Mount Airy will seek the status.
Until then, Scott Graham, a city commissioner who helped launched the committee and is one of its members, said all the information presented Wednesday by Nabors will be studied in-depth.
“I think he’s given us some great things to think about,” Graham said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.