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DeFuniak Springs City Council discusses attracting retirees to stimulate economic growth

Sep 29th, 2011 | 0

By REID TUCKER

A proposal put before the DeFuniak Springs City Council indicated that making the city a “retiree-friendly community” for baby boomers could be a catalyst to expand local business opportunities.

DeFuniak Springs Business and Professional Association (DBPA) President Sara Comander presented the Council with the idea that a new approach to an older, more affluent demographic is a viable means of promoting economic growth. Though Council members did not take action at the meeting regarding Comander’s proposal, she said the DBPA will help the city in any way it can should the Council choose to pursue the idea. For her part, Comander is confident that the time is right for the city to make its move.

“We have everything here in DeFuniak Springs,” she said. “We have the talent here to make economic development happen. We have the tools and we have the opportunity to build a good economic base here in DeFuniak Springs.

“There are a great number of things we can do and we can accomplish it. If everyone takes a bite of that apple and we all work towards that goal, I feel like we can do it.”

She came armed with numbers to back up her claims on the night of the regularly scheduled Sept. 26 meeting. Comander told the Council that the 76 million baby boomers are the fastest-growing, and wealthiest, market in the U.S. According to information she provided, some 12,000 boomers retire daily and it is estimated that $34 billion will be transferred to baby boomers in 2015 alone. Furthermore, Comander cited statistics showing most boomers have $300,000 to $400,000 in liquid assets and most pay their taxes.

Of particular interest to DeFuniak Springs, statistics show that 60 percent to 70 percent of baby boomers prefer to relocate to a rural area after retirement, she said.

Comander said it would be necessary to reassess what works and what needs adjusting in terms of its business policies if the Council means to make the city more attractive to the active, business-owning retirees of today. That said, it is Comander’s opinion that DeFuniak Springs already offers many things baby boomers look for in a new hometown, including a low cost of living, low crime rate, scenic beauty, quality healthcare, and a location close to larger cities while still being far enough away to enjoy small-town living.

After hearing Comander’s proposal, the Council dove into an agenda filled with a variety of items up for discussion, including, most prominently, a closer look at proposed changes to the city’s sign ordinance.

Sign Ordinance Committee Chairman Art Dees presented a heavily revised City Ordinance 777 that not only eliminates all limitations on the physical size of signage or the number of signs business owners can put up but also does away with the application process altogether. Other proposed changes to the ordinance were similarly sweeping in scope, but Dees said those changes were reached by committee consensus based on “broad representation” from the local business community.

“We’ve had as many as 40 (people) at our meetings,” Dees said. “We were assigned the task of taking the current (ordinance) and going through it and, of the 40 that came to one of the meetings…they had done their homework. They had thought through their position. We simply went through line by line and the result is what we presented to [the City Council].”

Several members of the public, business owners and non-business-owners alike, made comments to the Council in favor of and against the proposed changes to the ordinance. Some city residents, including Lee Thomas, were against such “wide open” rules and called for “responsible laws” limiting the size and number of signs and the messages those signs are allowed to contain. However, Rebecca King, representing the local Comfort Inn and Suites, said there are businesses, like hers, in the community that have suffered because of the limitations on signage under the current ordinance.

“[The proposed changes to the ordinance] would take care of a lot of problems,” she said….

Read the full story in the September 29, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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