COLLEGE STATION — Attracting retirees can mean stable income for communities, and suitable recreation amenities may be one of the keys to keeping them there, a Texas A&M University study shows.
“There is a strong social element in recreation. Our data suggest if excellent recreation opportunities are available in a community, one of the primary reasons retirees leave an area will be removed,” said Dr. John Crompton, a professor of recreation, park and tourism sciences at Texas A&M.
Many communities have recognized that attracting and keeping retirees is as valuable as having strong employers, he added. “Attracting 100 new retirees, each with $40,000 annual household income, is equivalent to attracting a new business with a $4 million annual payroll,” he explained.
Crompton and Traci Haigood, a doctoral student in Texas A&M’s marketing department, collaborated on a study of retirees in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas who had relocated to the area. Their survey sought information in two broad areas: what caused retirees to leave their previous communities, and what drew them to the valley.
The research was conducted in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties. Hidalgo and Cameron were among the 75 U.S. counties receiving the largest net number of migrants aged 60 or more between 1985 and 1990.
The survey was funded in part by the Truell Foundation and a group of South Texas chambers of commerce, who are developing a strategy for recruiting permanent residents to the area as part of their economic development efforts, Haigood said.
Crompton said previous research suggested that decision-making processes in migrating retirees or older people is a two-fold process.
“They must first decide whether to move, and if they do, they must then decide where to live,” Crompton said.
This two-step process involves factors that researchers have termed “push” factors, which prompt someone to leave a place, and “pull” factors, which draw a person toward another place.
Crompton and Haigood asked retirees in the valley about the push and pull factors involved in their decisions to settle in South Texas.
“The number one reason retirees left their previous communities was a category of factors broadly titled ‘escape.’ Of the four factors comprising the escape category, two recreation- related factors had the greatest weight,” Haigood said.
The other two escape factors were desire to get away from cold weather and retirement (“escape” of the survey respondent or spouse from the previous place of employment).
There were six other categories of push factors: personal health/health care needs, life disruptions or critical events, financial considerations, housing needs, neighborhood conditions and socioeconomic status. Each of those categories included from two to five factors that were considered push factors.
Haigood and Crompton expected retiree responses about pull factors to show equally strong emphasis on recreation amenities as a drawing card to an area. However, availability of recreation and park opportunities ranked only third out of six categories of pull factors.
The top category was climate and terrain preferences, while availability of support services was ranked as the second most important pull factor.
The final three pull factors were opportunities for social or community participation, location of family, and ambience (including such other factors as more rural environment or smaller population size).
The apparent discrepancy in the importance of recreation as a factor in moving away from one place but not toward another could be explained by several things, Crompton said.
One is that new areas retirees consider might all be perceived as having better recreation opportunities than current locations, so that other factors take on more relative importance
Another might be that such factors as lower cost of living would be more important than superior recreation opportunities, which might be an explanation for those who moved to South Texas as opposed to California or Florida, which might be perceived as having better recreation opportunities, Haigood said.
“Rio Grande Valley locations may be regarded as a good compromise for relocation because they have fairly good amenities at an affordable price,” she said.
That’s good for the area because it increases economic stability, she said.
“Our data suggest failing to provide a high level of recreational activities for retirees could mean an eroding tax base for communities that lose some of their more affluent retirees,” she said.