Retire in Concord, mag says
'U.S. News' picks us as one of its top 10
By MEG HECKMAN
Concord (NH)Monitor staff
September 30. 2007 12:01AM
When Mike Donovan first ran for mayor six years ago, his stump speech went something like this: Concord, he'd say, is a great place to live, work, raise kids and retire. It seems that more than just the voters were listening.
Earlier this month, US News and World Report named Concord one of the 10 Best Places to Retire, citing its pleasant surroundings, chummy environment and "elegant" downtown. Health care, proximity to mountains and bigger cities, the local political scene and New Hampshire's distinct seasons helped launch the city into the top bracket.
Folks around here were surprised that US News compiled retirement rankings (the magazine is better known for ranking universities) but few disputed Concord's position on the list. The region's population has been aging a tad faster than the rest of the country for years and - thanks in part to an influx of 50- and 60-somethings - Concord is expected to grow grayer still.
An older population has its benefits, especially one that includes the often-affluent baby boomers New Hampshire draws. Educated people with resources and free time are likely to volunteer and become involved in civic activities. But as they face the challenges of age, they're likely to demand services that a community needs a young workforce to provide.
"We're very blessed here in Concord," Donovan said. "It's an awfully nice community. I'm not scared by the fact that we're attracting a graying population, but I do hope it continues to be balanced with young families, too."
By 2020, New Hampshire's over-55 population is expected to nearly double from 21 to 38 percent, a trend driven by aging baby boomers moving in and younger people moving out, often in search of better jobs or cheaper homes.
"We've very cognizant that the population here is aging and that there is some in migration of other folks," said Concord Hospital President Mike Green. "We've really worked hard to position the organization to meet the needs of that population."
The hospital already runs the briskest joint-replacement office in the state, replacing about 600 hips and knees each year. The Payson Center routinely tailors its cancer treatments for older patients, and surgeons often use a robot to help them preserve nerve endings during prostate surgery. A specially trained gynecologist is also helping women deal with incontinence, which often comes with age.
Finding qualified workers can be challenging, Green said, but the hospital works hard to recruit through local nursing schools and its residency program for family care doctors. Green says plenty of prospective employees want to come to Concord Hospital, but they often have a hard time finding affordable housing in the city.
"I don't know the answer to that," he said. "I do know that we have more employees who are commuting 30 minutes or more to get to work."
Many of the region's new neighborhoods are restricted to the over-55 set, but Nan Hagan, director of Main Street Concord, wonders if downtown's many vacant second and third stories might someday become funky, convenient lofts for young workers and retirees alike.
"The older demographic you're talking about, that's me," Hagan said. "We want to live downtown. We can walk to everything, we can get our hair done, have lunch, go shopping."
How did we win?
U.S. News reviewed about 2,000 communities with populations of at least 15,000, then picked winners based on low crime, health care, educational opportunities, climate, cost of living and fun things to do. Concord is the only top 10 community on the east coast, with most of the others clustered in the South and Northwest.
Each retirement-ready hamlet receives a few gushing paragraphs and plenty of pictures. Concord's profile employs fuzzy geography: Canterbury Shaker Village is within the city limits and "glassy" Paugus Bay is just a tiny bit to the north. Nor does it discuss the property taxes, the limited public transportation or the demise of the Centennial Senior Center, all matters that routinely surface among local seniors.
"I don't fathom it myself," said Gail Meade, who runs the Penacook Community Center and works with the Merrimack County Council on Aging. "It's expensive to live in Concord if you don't own your own home, and even then the taxes are high. Finances doesn't seem to be the reason (Concord made the list). I think it's the people themselves."
Newcomers will find plenty of warm welcomes, Meade said, and plenty of offers to get involved: local hospices, the council on aging and other agencies need volunteers. Concord, she said, also offers plenty of part-time jobs for seniors looking to make a little extra cash.
"There are so many opportunities for them," she said.
Katherine Rogers, a longtime city councilor and candidate for mayor, wonders if retired newcomers might help the community provide more elder-friendly services, such as a senior center.
"If we have a large influx of retirees, we're going to have a new idea bank of how we fund it, what we need and where we'll put it," she said. "Yes, it will put pressure on us to get it done faster, but it will also give us more input on how to get it done."
That is, of course, if they're all not too busy chasing political candidates. U.S. News dedicates a good chunk of its article expounding on Concord's role in the presidential primary, plus pointing out the "majestic" State House dome and calling government the largest local industry.
For a generation once enamored by JFK, that might be a powerful draw.
"The New Hampshire primary is kind of like the ultimate reality game for boomers," Rogers said. "Most boomers, and I'm one of them, are fascinated by politics. Now they can move to New Hampshire and be front row center."
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By MEG HECKMAN
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