A group appointed to study Mount Airy’s possible designation as a certified retirement community believes this should be pursued, but wants all stakeholders to get behind a unified marketing plan that also could include recruiting younger residents.
This was the consensus reached Tuesday by a committee assembled in June to explore whether the city should become part of a state program that would actively promote it as a place where retirees should move.
The group’s first two meetings at the Municipal Building had included gathering facts and discussing the pros and cons of the plan. And during the third on Tuesday, members were to the point that they could support moving forward with it — with some reservations. These are linked to the funding involved, the need to have various local groups involved with tourism also rally around the certification effort and to identify which local attributes to promote.
“I think the next step is to find out if the city (government) is going to fork out the $10,000,” Allen Burton, one of the retirement committee’s seven members, said of the application fee required for the state certification program.
So far, Lumberton and Asheboro are part of the fledgling effort operated through the Department of Commerce, which allows participating municipalities to tap into state marketing resources including national promotions and advertising.
Burton and others said they supported not only the concept of Mount Airy being known as a retirement community, but seeking the related certification as well.
“It’s just a stamp, or a seal, that you’ve met all the requirements,” another committee member, Todd Tucker — president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership — said of the process involved.
Access to quality medical care and other resources are part of that, and a participating community must maintain an ongoing plan geared toward its ability to serve an older population.
“It gives it some substance,” Burton said of the city having such a recruitment effort certified by the state.
Committee member Jim Reeves said that to him, seeking the retirement status involves a “no-brainer” aimed at taking the city’s tourism efforts to another level.
“I think Mount Airy does a tremendous job of attracting temporary people,” Reeves said. “And I think this (the certification) gives us a chance to attract permanent people.”
Retirees are an economic asset to a community because they tend to have large disposable incomes that benefit the real estate, retail and other sectors.
Also Target Young?
Though there was unanimous support among the committee members for seeking official retirement status, Tuesday’s discussion indicated that this somehow might also include a dual approach targeting young professionals or families as well.
“I’ve had a lot of feedback on this issue,” Tucker said of the certified retirement community proposal. “They (critics) are concerned that this is a singular strategy.”
The economic-development official offered the idea of tailoring an overall marketing plan to reach multiple groups — not just seniors.
“Now to my knowledge, there’s no certified young people’s community,” Tucker added regarding any similar state effort to attract that segment.
This is just something to be considered, he said. “I don’t want to muddy the water.”
Tucker explained that some believe Mount Airy already has more than its share of older residents, but lacks families or singles in their 30s — especially those who are entrepreneurial-minded and might start businesses here.
But Scott Graham, a city commissioner who also is on the retirement certification committee, pointed out that telling retired couples they ought to move to Mount Airy is easier than telling it to a 35-year-old single man.
That’s because of the lack of night life and other amenities for those in that age group, he implied, compared to the package now offered to active seniors. It includes access to recreational facilities and natural-resources attractions such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, which members believe also are of interest to young families along with quality schools.
Jessica Roberts, director of tourism for the chamber — who’s also part of the retirement-certification group — said the city visitors center receives about three inquiries per week from people exploring relocating to this area.
Local Realtors likely get even more such inquiries, said Burke Robertson, another committee member.
Need For Unity
One of the next objectives for Commissioner Graham will involve trying to convince his fellow council members to agree to supply the $10,000 fee for the state certification program from the city coffers.
Tucker said a reduction in that charge could be possible, due to Surry’s status as a Tier One, or poorer county. This is an option “if people can’t stomach that 10-grand at the end of the day,” he said.
Yet supplying the money might be the least of the committee’s concerns, judging by other discussion Tuesday which focused on exactly what could be involved with the retirement community designation.
There was strong support for having all affected groups be part of the resulting marketing plan. These include the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, Surry Arts Council, Tourism Development Authority, the community-development segment of city government and others.
Robertson said if the necessary funding is secured, all those stakeholders should be brought together so the recruitment activities can be streamlined. Since their committee is a temporary group, Robertson and other members emphasized the need for someone to spearhead the effort and keep it going.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” Robertson said. “Somebody’s got to lead.”
“You’ve got to have somebody who’s going to crack the whip,” Burton agreed.
Another task for committee members will be to assemble a “short list” of Mount Airy’s attributes which they believe should be promoted to the outside world. Burton said he thinks residents of other areas aren’t familiar with all the city offers, aside from the obvious Mayberry mystique.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to consolidate that,” Robertson said of the various positive elements to which Mount Airy can lay claim.
“We’ve just got to find a way to market it.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.