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State of mind - Florida's popularity with retirees slips

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

HAYMARKET, Va. -- Frank Falsetti doesn't want to retire to Florida like his parents did, so the former New York stock broker is trading his Long Island home for a gated community in northern Virginia, 35 minutes from his kids.

He's not alone. Census Bureau figures show Florida is slipping as the destination of choice for retirees, while states such as Georgia, Virginia, Arizona and Nevada are growing more popular.

"We do not like Florida. It's just too hot," said Falsetti, 62. "I prefer mountains."

Florida still is the top destination for people 60 and older. It attracted 19 percent, or about 394,000, of the nearly 2.1 million U.S. residents in that age group who made interstate moves between 1995 and 2000, according to an analysis of 2000 census data by Wake Forest University sociology professor Charles Longino.

But it was the first time in at least four decades that Florida attracted less than one-fifth, Longino found. The 2000 figure was down 13 percent from a decade earlier.

Arizona, which attracted 6.5 percent, or about 134,000 people 60 and older, was second to Florida in 2000, followed by California, Texas and North Carolina.

The number of older residents moving into California from other states declined slightly, by about 3 percent over the decade.

Arizona's figure was 36 percent larger than a decade ago, while Nevada grew by 42 percent. Texas, Virginia and Georgia also had increases of at least 28 percent.

There are myriad reasons for the changes. Among them: cheaper housing, lower property taxes, more open spaces and closer proximity to family, said Mark Fagan, a sociologist at Jacksonville (Ala.) State University, an expert on retiree migration.

Building for boomers

The number of retirees who move is expected to climb as millions of baby boomers leave the work force in the next 10 years. Officials in states with growing elderly populations are looking for ways to serve that population, as are builders.

Kira McCarron, vice president of marketing of Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based Toll Brothers, a luxury home builder, said her company is focusing more on retirement communities in states such as Virginia that have a growing population of retirees.

Her company is building the 55-and-older-only community in Haymarket where Falsetti will be moving. It boasts mountain vistas and a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer.

Despite the economy's recent stumbles, today's retirees generally are more prosperous than previous generations, making older Americans an attractive source of economic development for states.

A report earlier this year by the Destination Florida Commission said that while older residents cost the state more in health care, their taxes help pay for schools.

The report also noted older residents paid $2.8 billion more in taxes to state and local governments than the governments spent on them in services.

The report recommended the state begin a marketing campaign aimed at getting baby boomers to retire to Florida. It also suggested property taxes be frozen for people older than 55 and that home care programs should be supported.

An influx of older residents also brings challenges for local officials, particularly increased demand for medical attention and social services.

"When they start to age in place, they start putting a stress on the health systems and typically they've moved away from their original support structure," said Carol Sala, administrator for the Nevada Division for Aging Services. "We're trying to plan for that."


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