Thursday, July 1, 2010

Seniors in Rural Communities – Return on Investment

Information provided by the Rural Learning Center in Howard

Most rural communities are involved in economic development at some level. Many are trying to recruit businesses to their town, others are working to create new jobs, and all are trying to keep what they already have.
Sometimes opportunity is sitting right in front of you. That was the case during Miner County’s effort to create a strategic plan for itself – some of its greatest resources were sitting right there in the same room. The plan was a direct result of input from individuals from across the county from a wide range of backgrounds and economic circumstances. Input was sought from a wide range of age groups and that was an important key determinant because the senior citizens in attendance turned the spotlight on an important economic segment of rural communities – its seniors.
“I’d like to stay here in Miner County – it’s my home. My friends are here, my church, I’m comfortable. I think I still have things to do and ideas to share, but I worry about when I can’t anymore. What will happen to my house? Where will I go? I wish we had housing options besides skilled nursing home care,” said a senior committee member during a public engagement event. With that senior housing amenities and the system of life cycle housing became one of the primary strategies for Miner County’s economic growth.
“We’ve always recognized the importance of our seniors in terms of all that they’ve contributed to our community. They are the backbone of our social capital here. They set the bar very high in terms of being good community members. We always hated to see them leave for another community during their later years. What we had missed was the critical part our seniors played in our local economic development,” said Kathy Callies, member of the strategic planning committee.
All counties obtain their income from the same five sources – farm proprietors, nonfarm proprietors, wage & salary disbursements, dividends/interest/rent and personal transfer receipts. All are important to the overall economy. Dividends/interest/rent and personal transfer receipts are predominantly paid to our senior citizens. If they leave your community their income goes with them. This impact is felt in your churches, your civic organizations, your health care systems, your main street enterprises.
“In Miner County we determined the economic impact of our seniors to be staggering. In fact, losing one senior was equivalent to the loss of a job in our community; losing five seniors was like losing a small business. We started taking a long and careful look at what was needed. We also started listening really hard to what they were trying to tell us,” said Randy Parry, Rural Learning Center.
What resulted was the development of senior housing amenities including a corporation that built and manages independent life cycle housing. Individual investors stepped forward eager to invest in their local community and to help insure that housing options were available. When a firm built assisted living based on the demographic data for Miner County they missed the importance of connecting to the community. “It was not enough to post an ad in the local paper. Assisted living was a new idea in our community. People wanted help with selling their home to a younger family and all the things that go along with that decision. We created Miner County Development Corporation to own and manage the facility and shortly the business started growing. Today a local family partnership owns and manages the facility. It’s a great place and a real asset to our community,” said Callies.

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