Retirees give Tri-Cities a boost

Seniors moving to Mid-Columbia from more expensive cities add $1 billion to economy

Retiree income contributes to become a growing slice of the area economy as more retired workers flee higher-priced regions of the country to settle in the Tri-Cities.

Statistics from 2007, the most recent available, show retirees injected about $1 billion into the Tri-Cities, according to Dean Schau, regional labor economist.

For comparison, that was 16.8 percent of the Tri-Cities total personal income of $6.9 billion – which was up from 14.3 percent 10 years earlier, when the area’s total personal income was $4 billion, Schau said.

He said the estimates are based on the share of government transfer payments and pension income in the Tri-Cities, and don’t include other retirement income from personal sources such as dividends, interest and rents.

As property values have dwindled in areas such as California, Florida and Arizona, more retirees have sought inexpensive places to live, said Chicago-based retirement expert Art Koff. Many return to areas where they grew up or where they can be close to family, and they also look for safety, convenience and quality of life, he said.

Older Americans have more money to spend than any other group, said Koff. retirees spend money on services, pay taxes and contribute by volunteering in the communities where they live, Koff said.

Many people choose to retire in the Tri-Cities because of the quality of life, said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council.

It’s relatively inexpensive and safe community with nice weather and quality medical facilities. Kadlec Medical Center which began offering speciality medical services in cardiac care and neuro-sciences in 2001, also started a senior clinic in 2007.

The expanded services have helped the Tri-Cities become a regional medical center, attracting patients from nearby areas who otherwise would have gone to Seattle or Spokane for treatment, Hall said.

Empty-nesters from out of state or local retirees also are helping socially and economically diversify what’s known as the fastest growing metro area in the state, Adrian said.

A number of senior living facilities also have come to the Tri-Cities in the last decade or so, and the demand for them is expecting to grow. The number of people age 65 and up in Benton County increased from 15,655 in 2000 to an estimated 19,234 in 2008, and in Franklin County that number rose from 4,200 to an estimated 4,984, according to Washington’s Office of Financial Management. The estimates are based on changes in Medicare enrollments, said Theresa Lowe, the state’s chief demographer. 

Scott Ferris, 72, moved from north-central Arkansas to the Tri-Cities about 3-1/2 years ago to work as a doctor at Hanford and decided to live in Kennewick once his wife Rosann checked out the area. Weather in the Tri-Cities, the three rivers and proximity to Seattle and Portland won the Ferris’ over. The Tri-Cities offers a great sense of community.

The Ferrises explore local restaurants and wineries, go to the Americans hockey games and attend Mid-Columbia Symphony concerts, he said. “We like to support our local wine industry that includes some of the finest wineries in the country,” said Ferris, who also loves fly-fishing.

Rosann, 56, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, said initially she found the area expensive compared to where she came from, but now she realizes the Tri-Cities has the lowest cost of living in the Northwest.

She credits Washington State University Tri-Cities, Columbia Basin College and small businesses for helping diversify the Tri-Cities economy. “There’s a lot more here than just Hanford.” she said.

That’s part of the reason why housing prices have been stable. In February, 114 single-family homes were sold in Kennewick, Richland, Pasco, West Richland, Benton City, Burbank and Finley, and the median price was up 2.28 percent over a year ago.

And a review of the state’s housing market in the fourth quarter of 2008 done by the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at Washington State University found Benton and Franklin counties have among the state’s most affordable housing prices.

That survey gave Benton County a housing affordability index of 170 and Franklin County 132, with a rating of 100 marking the level at which a typical family can afford a median-priced home. King County, by contrast, had a rating of 87.

The market may have slowed in the last six months, but real estate agents still get a lot of inquiries from potential customers to buy property in the Tri-Cities. It’s a metro area with a small-town feel and offers many opportunities such as golf and water-related recreational activities.

About half of the 425 members of the Meadow Springs Country Club in Richland can be considered seniors, said Jeremy Simmons, the club’s general manager. Many members have come from elsewhere, attracted by the low cost of living, he said.

“Seniors, that’s anyone 55 and up, have been very positive for us,” agreed Mike Lundgren, president and owner of Canyon lakes Golf Course in Kennewick. They provide about one-third of the business at Canyon Lakes, he said.

Source: Tri-City Herald


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