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Retired seniors could be tonic for community

by Les Nelson — Commentary
| September 10, 2013 1:25 PM

I enjoyed Mr. Gruber’s series on Libby’s economy but believe his assumption that “...pretending we can go forward without utilizing over two-thirds of our land base is a non-starter” is unneccessarily pessimistic. I would love to see a sustained-yield timber harvest.  I would love to see an active local mill. Better yet, I would love to see a value-added wood products industry in Libby. But I don’t think we have to just stand around until that happens.

Here’s just one suggestion, and I’m certainly not the first to bring it up, but it has never been aggressively pursued to my knowledge in my 2-1/2 decades in this community: I’m talking about pursuing retirees.

We’ve heard it a thousand times, “Libby is a beautiful place to live but you can’t eat scenery!”  I say, “Oh, yes, you can!”  Baby boomers are reaching retirement at an unprecedented rate in this country, and they don’t all want to live in Sun City or high-rise retirement communities in urban areas. Many would like to fish, hunt, hike, pick berries and just enjoy fresh air and quiet in a four-season climate where earthquakes, blizzards, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes are rare to unheard of.  

Why retirees? They don’t need jobs; they bring their income with them in the form of Social Security, pensions, IRAs, 401s and other investments. They do need a place to live which creates jobs for realtors, title companies, financial institutions, building suppliers, general contractors, electricians, plumbers, concrete finishers, drywall contractors, cabinet makers, carpet layers, decorators and landscapers. They need transportation which creates more jobs for car sales, service, gas stations and insurance agencies.  

Mr. Gruber noted the lack of freeways and airports as a difficulty in attracting business. Many retirees don’t mind this at all. They like being away from the traffic, noise and pollution of freeways and airports. For the few times a year that they travel, driving three hours to an airport is a fair trade-off.  In the meantime, they eat out a lot locally, and enjoy low-cost entertainment of which Libby has much. When winter gets a little long, dark and dreary, retirees take a break in Arizona, Maui or on a Carribbean cruise.

Retirees do require far more medical care than younger folks — it is one of the first things they look for in a retirement community — and that creates good jobs for professional and para-professional medical personnel, and who has a state-of-the-art hospital under construction?

All of these services required by retirees create jobs held by younger people with families and that, in turn, reinvigorates our schools.

Retirees do have more free time (at least, that’s what I’m told!) and volunteer much of it to good causes. And they engage in far less criminal activity than younger folks — check the ages in the local police blotter. Older folks are light on the land, responsible for very little noise, air, water or highway polution.

Do the math: If 200 retired individuals/couples retired in Libby/Troy with an average income of $50,000 they would pump $10 million into the economy, much of it locally, which would be multiplied over and over again through several tiers of spending.

Is it the end-all? No, but it surely could be a beginning. I’ve always found it more effective to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

(Les Nelson is a retired Lutheran minister of Christ Lutheran Church, current Libby School Board Member, President of the Nordicfest Committee and involved in many volunteer organizations.)