The term “retirement community” often evokes images of shuffleboard, cafeteria-style dining and nurses with trays of pills. The term is rarely associated with a vibrant, booming economy, where high-end jobs support the growth of a high-end quality of life. Maybe the term is a little bleak, but sometimes retirement communities offer a lot more.
In 2008, Harlingen became a “Go Texas Certified Retirement Community.” This distinction came about as a way to market the city to a wider audience—retired people looking for a sunny, tropical paradise to live out the rest of their days. It cost the city $17,137 and a rigorous application process.
Certainly, there are some great advantages. For instance, the city is marketed on the state-sponsored website Retire in Texas.org. This website features each of the state’s certified retirement communities, listing everything they have to offer retired individuals—climate, health care, entertainment, volunteering opportunities, etc.
But was becoming a Certified Retirement Community a step in the wrong direction? According to City-Data.com, Harlingen has a young population at a median age of 31. It’s a relatively young town, as well—Harlingen has only just celebrated its centennial. And with the average household size being 3 people, I’m willing to bet there are more young families than retired people living in Harlingen (year-round).
What concerns me is that I don’t think there was any real analysis of the city’s demographics before pushing the city to identify as a retirement community. Why haven’t Harlingen’s leaders pushed for the city to be marketed as a place with a young, strong workforce? Why not push for Harlingen to appeal to the entrepreneurs, the tech-savvy, or the creatives of tomorrow?
Demographic trends indicate that young knowledge workers (those who work primarily with information or who develop and use knowledge in the workplace) are positioned to strongly influence site selection and relocation.…Unlike previous generations of knowledge workers, who chose where to live based on the availability of job opportunities, the next generation will decide where to work based on where they want to live. The next generation can, in the words of The Wall Street Journal, “pick a place to live, and then find a job.”
Will Harlingen be able to lure these “young knowledge workers?” OK, so maybe Harlingen can’t be the next Austin or San Antonio overnight, but why not start pushing things in that direction now? In twenty years, will we still be a town of retirement villages, golf-carts and dollar stores? Or will we be a city seeking the next generation of thinkers, artists, doctors and money-makers?
Please don’t misunderstand, I firmly believe that senior citizens are a great asset to any community. They are part of a generation that deserves our respect and our care. But a city should be a great place to live for everyone. When we cater to a demographic that does not represent a well-rounded sample of the population and can only marginally contribute to the city tax base (remember, seniors often live on a fixed income), we aren’t helping our city realize its full potential.