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A growing older market: McDuffie County part of state trend in developments aimed at "active" adults

More and more baby boomers are reaching senior citizen status every day. And experts say as they grow older, many of them are moving to Georgia. That is something that puts the state - and McDuffie County - in a unique position over the next 40 years.

According to Rick Duke of Georgia Tech's economic development research team, between 1995 and 2000, there were only five other states with a higher number of people moving in.

"And we did it without anyone trying to do it," Mr. Duke said.

During a presentation to the Thomson Rotary Club last Thursday, he said major senior housing developments are springing up across the state because of the migration trend. Georgia is attractive because of favorable climate and a reasonable cost of living.

McDuffie County is not immune to the trend. Construction began late last year on a senior housing development on Highway 17, just outside of Thomson.

Also, a senior housing complex on Cobbham Road - Monterey Pass - opened earlier this month and within a week had 18 residents locate there, according to Jerry Braden, whose company - The Braden Group - owns the development.

For Thomson resident Jo Evelyn Flournoy, several things factored into her relocation from her Old Washington Road home to Monterey Pass this week.

"Well I felt like it would be a very quiet place to live, and it's very convenient," she said. "And since I've come here and inspected everything, it's very nice."

Mr. Braden has kept his eye on second tier counties, like McDuffie, that are away from metropolitan areas to get on the front end of the senior housing trend in Georgia.

"We've done this quite a bit, and we feel like there's good potential growth in McDuffie County because it is so close to Augusta and to Columbia County," Mr. Braden said.

Mr. Duke told Rotary Club members each home in these senior developments is the equivalent of two manufacturing jobs because they require fewer government services while pouring money into the local market. That makes the communities an economic shot-in-the-arm for the state.

"This is a huge industry in Georgia, and McDuffie County is posed to benefit from it," Mr. Duke said. He added that the number of migrating retirees places McDuffie "in the elite in the state."

He also said the windfall is one that doesn't cost state coffers a cent. By contrast, he said, state leaders spent more than $100,000 per job in luring the Kia plant and its 2,900 jobs to West Point, Ga.

Developments from major companies across the state are already in place. Many more are in the planning stages, Mr. Duke said.

Del Webb - which is part of Pulte Homes, a Michigan-based company with retirement developments in 22 states - has more than 5,000 homes planned in three developments across Georgia.

The largest is Sun City at Peachtree, Ga., where planners expect 3,400 homes, a golf course, community clubhouse and other amenities on 1,726 acres. The company is also working on the Village at Deaton Creek north of Atlanta and Del Webb at Lake Oconee.

Bob Mack, Del Webb/Pulte Homes' director of marketing in Atlanta, said numbers are one of the main reasons behind his company's investment in the state. For example, Georgia has the fastest growing "active adult" population east of Colorado.

"The Baby Boomer population is aging and becoming retirement age very quickly," he said.

So far, the company's focus has been around the Atlanta area, mainly because of the job growth in that area.

"It brings a lot of what we call influencers to the state for job opportunities," Mr. Mack said. "We know that more and more of those influencers want to have mom and dad around to be close to the grandkids. So you are getting these people who may be empty-nesters who are kind of re-nesting in the locale that their children are."

And Del Webb isn't alone. Levitt and Sons has also announced large retirement communities near Atlanta - Seasons at Laurel Canyon, Seasons at Seven Hills and Seasons at Lake Lanier. The company builds senior and all-ages developments in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina.

The trend is so strong that The Braden Group has concentrated on nothing but senior housing for the past three years. And the way Mr. Braden sees it, his company is lending a hand to those looking to locate in communities like McDuffie County

"Seniors don't have a lot of places to turn to when they get on up in age," he said. "...Many of their houses aren't handicap accessible, and they can't afford the maintenance that is required."

Mr. Mack feels all of these factors leading to the unexpected boom in the senior housing market presents an opportunity to attract even more developers. That, he said, could double the number of seniors moving to the area with just a little work.

Web posted on Thursday, January 11, 2007

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