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Midcoast banking on baby boomers; area wooing wealthy, community-minded retirees

Posted May 09, 2012, at 2:08 p.m.
Last modified May 09, 2012, at 6:02 p.m.
Susan Beebe works in a flower bed near the Rockland water treatment plant on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. Beebe has lived on the midcoast for 26 years. &quotIt's a lot better now than when I moved here," she said.
Susan Beebe works in a flower bed near the Rockland water treatment plant on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. Beebe has lived on the midcoast for 26 years. "It's a lot better now than when I moved here," she said. Buy Photo
Camden Harbor as seen on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. The Penobscot Regional Chamber of Commerce is marketing boats, harbors, scenic views as well as recreational aspects of the region to baby boomers in an effort to bring more active retirees to the midcoast.
Camden Harbor as seen on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. The Penobscot Regional Chamber of Commerce is marketing boats, harbors, scenic views as well as recreational aspects of the region to baby boomers in an effort to bring more active retirees to the midcoast. Buy Photo
Quarry Hill an independent/assisted living facility in Camden as seen on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. Penobscot Regional Chamber of Commerece president Dan Bookham hopes such facilities in the area will be part of the draw to get more baby boomers to relocate to the midcoast region.
Quarry Hill an independent/assisted living facility in Camden as seen on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. Penobscot Regional Chamber of Commerece president Dan Bookham hopes such facilities in the area will be part of the draw to get more baby boomers to relocate to the midcoast region. Buy Photo
Dan Bookham president of the Penobscot Regional Chamber of Commerce poses near Camden Harbor on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. Bookham and Chamber members are updating maketing efforts to draw more baby boomers to the midcoast region.
Dan Bookham president of the Penobscot Regional Chamber of Commerce poses near Camden Harbor on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. Bookham and Chamber members are updating maketing efforts to draw more baby boomers to the midcoast region. Buy Photo
Eric Zelz | BDN

ROCKPORT, Maine — When Bill Chapman and his wife retired to Maine after working 40 years in Chicago, they made sure to pack his golf clubs.

Nearly 10 years later, those clubs are still gathering dust in their Rockport home. The Chapmans may have retired, but the baby-boomer couple was not yet ready to rust, as the saying goes.

“I do a lot of volunteering. A lot of service,” Bill Chapman, 63, who is the chair of his town’s select board, said this week. “I have some hobbies — but not a lot of time for my hobbies.”

The couple was an early example of what many in midcoast Maine hope will become a trend: retiring baby boomers deciding to resettle in Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties. Some in the region seem to be banking on an influx of retiring boomers as a path to prosperity.

Next month, the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce will debut a magazine called “Coastal Maine Life,” which is focused on relocation and resettlement, particularly for the baby boomer cohort. Dan Bookham, the Chamber’s executive director, said there has been a lot of interest from local advertisers and businesses who understand that midcoast Maine is well-placed to benefit from retiring baby boomers. The generation comprises the 79 million babies born in the post-war years of 1946 to 1964, who are now 48 to 66 years old.

“It’s an interesting time,” Bookham said. “As we emerge from the Great Recession, we have the largest and most affluent group of retirees coming on the scene that we’ve ever seen. And this part of the world is ideal for retirees.”

Baby boomers are particularly attractive as a demographic in part because many might want to retire from high-pressure jobs and fast-paced cities, but not to stop being engaged in their communities or even in new business ventures.

“People aren’t retiring to stop. They’re retiring to start,” Bookham said. “Our part of Maine, and the state in general, offers great opportunity for people looking for the next chapter in their life.”

He ticked off some of the attractions of the midcoast area, including vibrant Main Street communities; the opportunity to kayak on the bay or bird-watch; safer, smaller, slower-paced towns and cities; and a diversity of cultural offerings.

Even though Maine already is the oldest state in the nation, according to the last U.S. Census, having an influx of younger retirees would be positive, Bookham said.

“I think there’s a lot for Maine to gain in encouraging people to return home to retire, or to choose Maine for their next chapter,” he said.

They love it’

Attracting retirees to Maine is not a new idea, according to Laurie LaChance, outgoing president of the Maine Development Foundation. When she was the Maine State Economist under Gov. Angus King, she took the lead on an effort to attract more retirees to Maine. The effort generated a lot of good research, she said, led to two published reports and a “massive” conference on the topic held in the fall of 2001.

LaChance described the retirement sector as a green industry with a net economic benefit.

“The people who tend to move in for retirement are people of means,” she said. “Despite the stock market changes, this generation of boomers is the wealthiest of all time. … They’re not coming for our welfare system, believe me. That’s just a fallacy. They were people buying million-dollar homes in Camden, and they love it there.”

But the national economy softened after Sept. 11, 2001, and the recommendations the task force had put forward weren’t acted on.

“It was an opportunity lost,” LaChance said. “It’s still there. There’s still definitely opportunities to nibble around this, despite the fact that Maine has never done anything actively to pursue that.”

Two years ago, 6,035 people in the baby boomer demographic moved to Maine from a different state, according to the U.S. Census.

They likely earned more in those other states — Maine’s average income ranges from 10 to 14 percent below the average U.S. income, she said.

And though locals may grumble about rising property taxes for schools and other municipal expenditures, LaChance thinks that out-of-state retirees won’t be among the naysayers.

“If you move here from Connecticut, then the retirement income you have is most likely fine,” she said. “People of means who are well-educated want to move to a state with a strong educational system, because if you don’t have a strong educational system, you have a higher crime rate. They want safe communities, clean communities and access to the natural beauty of Maine. Why move to a community that looks just like Massachusetts and just like New Jersey?”

LaChance said that attracting more retirees to the state won’t fix all our problems.

“It’s not the end-all, but I think it could be a very nice piece to add to a complement of economic programming,” she said. “It’s a very viable piece of strategy for Maine.”

Not everyone agrees

Some feel the state is in danger of putting too many of its eggs in the boomer basket, though, and losing sight of the bigger economic and demographic picture. What kind of state should Maine become? Who should be most encouraged to move here? These are questions that are important to debate, according to Rob Brown of Opportunity Maine, a nonprofit organization that works to promote economic security and sustainable development in Maine.

“I think Maine falls too often into the next shiny thing that comes along,” he said this week. “I think we can all say right up front that nobody has anything against retirees. That’s a given. But if it’s a matter of proactive economic and social policy in this state to try and attract certain groups of people to come here, we might consider what some side effects are of that policy.”

He said that working to woo retiring baby boomers might put efforts to lure other demographics, such as young people and families, on the back burner.

“Retirees bring wealth,” he said. “But a bigger question for the society at large in Maine is what kind of social and economic vitality do they bring to the state? What kind of diversity do they bring to the state?”

Although many have the impression that young people are leaving their rural communities, and then the state, in droves, that’s not exactly the case, he said. Lots of younger folks move from smaller towns to cities like Bangor, Portland and Rockland, where they take advantage of the creative economy that is putting these communities on “Best of” lists around the country.

But if Maine’s reputation as a haven for retirees grows, will this change?

“They’re going to view Maine as nothing more than a retirement community. They are going to look at Maine like Florida,” Brown said. “That does not bode well for our communities or for our school system. How many young people are going to want to move here after college?”

Brown believes the state’s economy is already overloaded with service-sector or care-taking jobs.

“Way too many of those jobs are low-income, low-skill, fairly insecure jobs that do not add much in the way of sustained growth,” he said, adding that he thinks education is the key to changing the state’s economy. Not necessarily luring retirees.

“If we have a world-class higher education system that’s affordable — that becomes a huge attractor, nationally and internationally,” Brown said.

But that’s down the road. Right now, people such as John Richardson are working to benefit from the expected silver wave of retiring baby boomers.

Baby boom, building boom

Richardson, a midcoast developer and former commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development said condominium units at the planned Village at Rockport development are selling well and the baby boomers are the prime market.

Units in the midcoast development start at $159,000.

“Baby boomers are coming from outside and interested in a home with a smaller footprint,” he said. “Our marketing studies determined that the baby boomers are looking to downsize. We gave them a great price and a great location and a sufficient amount of amenities to satisfy the baby boomer generation,” he said. “When I was commissioner, it was something we looked at: How to keep and attract the baby boomers to Maine. This is something that I felt was important.”

A few miles north on Route 1, Realtor Bennett Bricker of Camden Real Estate said he isn’t sure he agrees that baby boomers are his prime market.

“I don’t think the baby boomers do drive the local economy,” he said, estimating that Camden is composed of about half retirees and half nonretirees. “The local economy is really driven by the tourist industry.”

However, Richardson said his hunch about the boomers has proven to be a good investment.

“The good news is that we’re very successful,” he said. “The bad news is that we’re running out of units to sell, because the demand is so high.”

Chapman said the town of Rockport has been happy to gear up for more retirees moving into the area.

“I’d welcome them,” he said of the retirees. “They bring quite a bit of diversity. And as my experience shows, they typically have some free time, and devote efforts to make the town better.”

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