BELFAST, Maine — Investing in parks and other public amenities is a proven economic development tool that can help communities attract businesses and wealthy residents.
That was the message delivered by Dr. John L. Crompton during Saturday’s Maine Citizen Summit at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center on parks as economic engines.
Crompton, a professor of recreation sciences at Texas A&M University and member of the College Station, Texas City Council, is the most published scholar in the field of recreation and tourism. A summer resident of Vermont, Crompton’s keynote address at the summit was part of the Distinguished Speaker program of Senior College.
Crompton said that tourism was a “public sector driven business” that private firms use to their own advantage. He said private companies may sell the bicycles and ice skates people use for fun but it was communities that build the bike paths and skating rinks. He said using taxes to pay for recreational amenities was an investment not a cost.
“Attractions draw tourists and most attractions are all run by public or nonprofit entities,” he said.
Crompton said Maine was perfectly positioned to draw businesses and wealthy residents because of its quality of life. He said his research has proved time and again that quality of life is the primary reason companies and people relocate to other areas. He said people consider recreation, cost of living, health care and cultural activities as quality of life issues that concern them the most.
“No matter how you define quality of life, parks and recreation and culture are a central part of it,” Crompton said. “There are no great cities in the world that do not have a great park system.”
He said communities need to consider the impending retirement of the baby boomers when they plan their cultural amenities. Fifty years ago about 48 percent of those over the age of 65 were still working. By 2000 that number had dropped to 14 percent. He described the group as “Grampies,” or the growing number of retired, active, monied people in excellent shape. They are the people who pay a community’s taxes while not taxing its services. Retired couples average $40,000 in income and every 100 attracted to a community by its amenities bring an annual payroll of $4 million with them.
“Retirement incomes are stable. Senior citizens are positive taxpayers. They stimulate housing and retail but do not put pressure on the local job market,” he said. “Retirees are a very attractive economic development tool. The capital investments a city makes for them provides benefits for all.”
He said senior citizens also provide a pool of volunteers eager to participate in their community. Volunteering is a form of socialization and an active recreational activity. He noted that recreational activity was a way to reduce stress and doing it in a beautiful setting makes it even better.
“Nature reduces stress,” Crompton said. “Why is it you are so relaxed in Belfast? Well, look. You have that wonderful ambiance. You have an area that’s stress-reducing.”