THOMASVILLE -- An informal group of chamber, city and private sector officials are actively searching for new ways to attract well-to-do retirees to Thomasvillle, said Thomasville-Thomas County Chamber of Commerce President Don Sims.

Mainstreet director Sharlene Celaya, City Manager Tom Berry, Mayor Rick Singletary and Archbold's Clay Campbell accompanied Sims last week to Aiken, S.C., a community the group thinks is a model "disposable income" retiree hotbed.

Sims says that the group is recruiting retirees as "aggressively as any industry," eyeing them as a "passive economic development tool."

"What it brings into the community is an income stream basically through their pension and savings that adds a very dynamic element to the community," Sims said.

The group said Thomasville has all the elements of what attracts disposable income retirees to move to a new town after hanging up their spurs: A moderate climate, good health care community, and, more than anything else, "a sense of place."

The group is encouraged by what they saw on the trip.

"(Aiken) has shown a dramatic shift in the economy of the community," Sims said. "We have that infrastructure that would be most alluring to top retirees. We are trying to develop a more structured recruitment program that would be appealing."

The chamber has allocated funds to develop a more involved "marketing" package, using a new Web link, southwest Georgia tourism and Archbold's health care facilities as highlights.

Thomasville's financial community supports the initiative.

"I really like the idea of our chamber trying to attract retirees here," Richard Mooney of Allen and Mooney Investment Advisors said last week. "It's a very clean industry, and they attract good people. And not to mention our quality of life. Could you really ask for a better place to live than Thomasville?"

However, Georgia has some competition with its southern neighbor. According to Sims, 25 percent of all people who retire in the United States and leave home move to Florida. A better marketing machine might make these retirees change their tune.

"What we believe, with our location and our proximity to the state of Florida, there is a major target of people that have moved to Florida and the crowds and the experience is not exactly what they wanted," Sims said.

Recruiting retirees who haven't had to support a child for educational purposes is a chief priority for the group. Since education is so pricey, those who fall into this bracket represent a significantly less "net resource need," said Sims.

It's not all about money, though. Besides bringing the bucks, retirees also bring with them the will to find new friends and purpose, aesthetically improving the community.

"These people are involved as volunteers. They are civic-minded. They are patrons of the arts," Sims said.

The next group of people to retire will be a kind that the world has never seen, breaking the mold of the old stereotype of loud pants, blue hair and grouchy demeanor. According to Sims, in the year 2013, 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65, with between 76 and 80 million people retiring who were born between 1946 and 1964. Eighteen percent will be considered "mobile." Fourteen percent of that age group will eventually move somewhere new to retire. They will be younger, more active and more health conscience. Sims says that Thomasville's YMCA, mega-plex health center and downtown will serve as the infrastructure that this new crowd will thrive on.

"They will bring their wealth and invest it with a financial institution," Sims said. "There are just so many good things that they will contribute."

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