Understanding why early retirees come to town

Posted 3/18/17

It’s a point most have heard before: Sometimes we don’t realize how good we’ve got it until we hear it from those on the outside looking in.

Such is the case with a recent revelation by a …

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Understanding why early retirees come to town

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It’s a point most have heard before: Sometimes we don’t realize how good we’ve got it until we hear it from those on the outside looking in.

Such is the case with a recent revelation by a financial think tank called MagnifyMoney. As reported in a front-page story published in the March 9 edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner, this research group tagged our community as being among the nation’s Top 10 destinations for early retirees.

The group includes the generation in their 40s and 50s who have enjoyed the good fortune of landing profitable careers, accrued a comfortable nest egg and then left the workforce at an age that allowed them to live off their retirement savings and investment income, while supplementing their cash flow with part-time employment.

The only unanswered question remaining for these visionaries is where to hang their hat and make a home, and what to do when they arrive.

MagnifyMoney says Cleveland is among the nation’s preferred cities for this group. According to its research, which included 217 American communities, three cities in Tennessee are among the favorites: Knoxville, which was ranked No. 1, and Memphis which finished in a three-way tie for No. 2, with Sherman, Texas, and Benton Harbor, Mich.

Cleveland shares the No. 6 spot with Hattiesburg, Miss., and Evansville, Ind.

In the research, cities were evaluated on three primary criteria: Cost of living, which accounted for 50 percent of the score; quality of life, whose weight was calculated at 30 percent; and employability (access to part-time work) was given a 20 percent slice of the destination pie.

Given these factors, Cleveland would be expected to fare well — although, as we mentioned, some of us who already live here, and who have lived here since birth, might be the last to realize it.

Consider: Property tax rates in both the city of Cleveland and Bradley County compare favorably to most communities our size, and overall cost — groceries, gasoline, housing and utilities, among others — remain competitive; plus, Tennessee has no income tax so that, too, is a plus for its residents.

Consider: Although Bradley County natives still see Cleveland as a “small town,” the truth is we are growing rapidly and our population is the proof. As such, our home offers many big-city amenities — good restaurants with an expanding selection; excellent schools; opportunities for higher education which include a community college, a four-year university whose academic prowess is comparable to any school its size, and a seminary; two state-of-the-art movie theaters; a midsized mall; open-door churches of all sizes, from tiny to huge, and which represent most major denominations; big-name businesses and mom-and-pop shops; a quality hospital and wide range of professional medical services; and a growing diversity among our people which brings with it opportunities for culture and entertainment exchange.

Consider: Bradley County’s unemployment rate — as of January was 5.3 percent — routinely hovers around 4.1 to 4.9 year round. It includes a variety of job options, some of which could attract early retirees who wish either to supplement their retirement incomes or who want to keep their minds and bodies active with part-time work in skilled or non-skilled settings.

Mayor Tom Rowland, who admits without apology to being Cleveland’s No. 1 cheerleader — which he is — probably talks to more outsiders than most. Here’s what he told our newspaper in helping to explain the favorable MagnifyMoney ranking:

“I talk to a lot of people about living in Cleveland, and they emphasize the quality of life; all the cultural activities, especially at Lee University; and the low cost of living and affordable housing. Recently, Cleveland had the lowest cost of gasoline in the nation.”

All are integral in earning the kind of national recognition given by MagnifyMoney.

But here’s an eye-opening example offered by the mayor that best examines Cleveland’s attractiveness to others. More and more, the parents of Lee University students — who come here from corner to corner of the nation — are choosing to move here. And, even when their sons and daughters graduate and move on in pursuit of the job market, they decide to stay. Why? Because they love the town, and its proximity to bigger cities like Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and Atlanta.

Maybe we really do have it better in Cleveland than we thought. Maybe that’s what some of the folks are thinking in cities that finished in MagnifyMoney’s bottom 10: California hotspots like Sacramento, Modesto, San Diego, Bakersfield and Stockton; as well as towns like Las Cruces, N.M., Denver, Colorado, and two Alaskan communities — Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The biggest surprise on the MagnifyMoney list is the city pegged as No. 2 from the bottom: Honolulu. But then, when considering the latter, we might suggest this familiar adage, “It’s a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” Perhaps the same can be said for Anchorage, Fairbanks or Denver. Surely, all have their strengths and weaknesses, as any community would — including our own.

It is why we won’t judge others, nor should we. We know ours the best and that’s how we’ll leave it.

To those early retirees who do find their way to Cleveland, we welcome you. And if you arrive with energy, we encourage your volunteerism.

We have many nonprofit organizations who do splendid work, but they always need another set of fresh eyes and willing hands.

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