Within the active retirement-community industry, Georgia is poised to become the next Florida, possibly affecting Columbia County, one development official told county leaders at a Wednesday meeting.
"I know economic development when I see it, and (a retirement community) is economic development," Rick Duke, the director of the Georgia Institute of Technology Economic Development Institute, told members of Columbia County's Development Authority.
Continuing-care retirement communities of the caliber that already exist in Columbia County, such as Brandon Wilde, make the county an enticing location for more of them, Duke said, and area governments should embrace what could be a major economic boost to local economies.
"Retirees prefer an area with a good health-care industry and I would certainly include Augusta and Columbia County in that group," Duke said.
Active retirement communities are master-planned developments restricted to people 55 and older focused around entertainment amenities such as golf, tennis, water sports or other social activities.
Examples of such developments include the Del Webb Sun City communities in Hilton Head, S.C., and Arizona or The Villages in central Florida.
The developments feature free-standing single family houses or townhouses and range in scale from several dozen to several thousand home sites, Duke said.
The Villages, outside of Orlando, has 60,000 residents with several golf courses, a polo grounds and other amenities, including town centers that feature restaurants and movie theaters, he said.
Duke touted the spending strength of aging baby boomers, the jobs that are created in services and other industries that support these developments and retirees' relatively small effect on county services.
"These people don't bring children," Duke said.
"There's no (additional) school maintenance other than for the people who support the people who live in the community."
Whether area governments court developers or not, active retirement communities are coming to Georgia with Del Webb and Pulte Homes announcing developments in Paulding, Spalding and Hall counties, Duke said.
Some retirees are even moving north from Florida to leave that state's congestion and vulnerability to hurricanes, Duke said.
Zack Daffin, the executive director of Columbia County's development authority, said after the meeting that it was purely informational but that these developments cannot be ignored.
"This kind of industry may find its way here without our efforts (to recruit it)," he said.
"It certainly may be something we need to focus on and get some energy to."
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