Making South Carolina a Retirement destination

South Carolina and Beaufort County are no strangers to the waves of relocating retirees, the kind that settled Hilton Head Island 50 years ago and have filled in communities from the island to the mainland.

But, according to the Center for Carolina Living, a group that researches and publishes information on retirement trends, the retirement market could still be an untapped resource of economic development for the area.

About 74 million baby boomers are starting to think about retirement, and as much as 27 percent of them — a record high — say they are willing to relocate during retirement, said Patrick Mason, co-founder of the Center for Carolina Living, which produces publications, conducts research and does advocacy work to push the state as the ideal place to retire.

Boomers also are the wealthiest generation, with more than $2 trillion in spending power. The destination of the migration of all that money should be of keen interest to the state, he said.

Making South Carolina a Retirement destination

South Carolina already has the beauty, climate and recreational amenities that ranked as the top three motivators for picking a retirement destination, according to Mason’s data. But the state is behind one key factor, he said: creating an official state designation that certifies retirement-friendly towns. Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina have such designations, and they’re starting to pay off, he said.

Those designations measure the availability of health care services, entertainment venues, housing value, cultural amenities and other criteria. “We haven’t had to do much,” he said. “In the meantime, the competitors — Louisiana, Mississippi — have had to be competitive. They had to really beat the drum.”

Mason gave a presentation on the issue recently at a meeting of the Callawassie Island property owners association. The meeting was intended to share some of his research on the trends and how communities can capitalize on the market. In tough economic times, the state should look more toward retirees as a way to boost the area, Mason said.

Retirees moving to the state contribute greatly to the economy. The migration of 470,000 into the state in 2008 alone pumped $30.21 billion into the economy. Boomers could provide the spending capital that even the BMW plant or other South Carolina-based job centers can’t match, Mason said.

“Now we’re shifting toward creating capital in terms of having affluent, educated people move here,” he said. “As that money comes into South Carolina, that really is a very powerful economy that could replace some of those industries that we’re not going to get.”

Mason, also an adjunct professor at Clemson University, has been gathering data on retiree trends since 1986. He uses census data, change-of-address audits, surveys, and other academic studies. Looking at this data will help communities across the state understand why retirees chose certain areas over another and what a region needs to attract the lucrative baby boomer market.

On the web

For more details on the migration and retirement research
by the Center for Carolina Living,