HISTORIC CHARLESTON – Kingsport (TN) City Manager Jeff Fleming recently passed the torch as chair of the American Association of Retirement Communities in an annual conference that drew attendees from 13 states, Canada, and the District of Columbia.
This years topic, A Year of Change, Renewal and Re-Imagination was appropriately held in Historic Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston was dealt a seemingly insurmountable economic blow when the Naval Shipyards impending closure was announced in 1993. ‚ The Shipyard employed 8,000 at its peak. Mayor Joe Riley used this -date with the hangman to successfully focus on the citys uniqueness and authenticity. In the process he became revered for his service and unwavering commitment by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Today, Charleston is ranked as a top 5 U.S. destination city by international travelers alongside New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Seattle.
Back in Tennessee, Fleming says his community sought inspiration from Mayor Riley. When Kingsport faced a similar circumstance in 1994 with the spinoff of Eastman from Kodak, we used Charlestons example to kick off a positive transformation of our own, Fleming explained. ‚ One of several strategies we used was the attraction of retirees with higher educational attainment and discretionary income for spending, he added, Its a great supplemental economic development strategy. He further explained that residents start as visitors, so it is important to build your brand. Its been an honor to tell the -Kingsport Story on a national stage.
Unlike many other organizations, the AARC is an interdisciplinary group made up of government officials, chambers of commerce, tourism, real estate developers, economic developers, attorneys, economists and marketing specialists. ‚ ‚ Its the best place to get relevant data, demographics, and trends that impact us all, Fleming explained.
My perception of -retirement communities usually meant a master-planned, gated development surrounding a golf course and other private amenities, Fleming said. Todays boomer retirees are looking for something different. Theyre often attracted to small, affordable cities with a vibrant downtown. They enjoy loft-living, unique retail/restaurants, biking/walking, swimming, and an active lifestyle. Sounds like Kingsport to me.
When I first became involved with AARC, I was in my 40s and thought all retirees were octogenarians. Now, I realize that retirees are people like me – in their 50s and 60s who want to be part of a greater community. They want the same basic things we all want – to be able to relax with others, to be intellectually stimulated, to tap into their lifetime of accrued talents, to make a meaningful contribution, and to feel fulfilled.
For the first time, the two largest generations (boomer retirees and millennials) are looking for similar traits in a community. We have an opportunity to capitalize on these trends for the next 20 years.
Its gratifying to look back and see places like Charleston, Kingsport, Beaufort and Wilmington 20 years ago and look at them today. Im optimistic for the future a future that is inclusive of all generations.