CAPE GIRARDEAU — Lauding it as a regional hub for education, commerce, health care and a wonderful place for young retirees to keep busy, Money magazine in 2009 named Cape Girardeau one of the 25 best places to retire.
That sparked an idea that is expected to come to fruition early next year: Entice some of the nation's 80 million baby boomers — who will be turning 65 during the next five years in massive numbers — to pull up stakes and move there.
"The whole concept makes sense," said John Mehner, president and CEO of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce. "But generally what kicks it off, what brings your attention to it, is the Money magazine thing."
During next year's first quarter, the chamber will begin a marketing campaign to try to bring 2,000 new baby boomers to the area over the next five years. A new website will be launched, and other efforts are intended to drive traffic to that site — billboards, direct mail and other traditional advertising outlets.
During a recent meeting of the Cape Girardeau City Council, Red Letter Communications owner Jim Riley, who came up with the idea, told council members a few interesting facts.
For example, he said, every day for the next 12 years, about 10,000 baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are turning 60. He pointed out that 60 percent of the baby boomer population is within one day's drive of Cape Girardeau and that 45 percent have said they will "downsize," which opens up the possibility of relocation.
And the baby boomer generation is a desirable group to have relocating to any community, Mehner and others said. Spending by the 116 million U.S. consumers age 50 and older topped $3 trillion last year.
That would be a boon to nearly every business in the community, including real estate, restaurants, grocery stores, country clubs, doctor's offices and retail shops, proponents said.
Riley's research shows that every 1,000 new baby boomers with an average of $20,000 a year in living expenses translates into $20 million in incremental and recurring annual revenue that is circulating around the Cape Girardeau area. Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger said he was excited about the possibility.
"It's a great idea," Rediger said. "It's well worth the time and investment to do. We seem to have a great market for those people. A lot of people are looking for something just like Cape Girardeau. I'm excited to see it get going next year. I think it offers a real opportunity for growth."
Not every retiree is going to find Cape Girardeau appealing, Mehner said.
"If people want to retire to a lake or an ocean, that's not who we're after," Mehner said. "We're going to start in the Midwest. People who maybe want to get out of the city but like the Midwest. People who have been here and left and want to come back. We're not going after every baby boomer."
The marketing campaign will be paid for by contributions from involved businesses, individuals and organizations, though Mehner said he wasn't ready to name them yet.
But the chamber believes in the idea: Mehner has hired Jerri Coleman, a former Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau employee, to manage the project. Coleman pointed out that the youngest baby boomer doesn't turn 65 until 2029, which means the project could continue for years, if successful.
"We're going to get people to the community that maybe haven't looked at Cape before or they have and their grandchildren live here now," Coleman said. "I think it's a good project to be involved with."
Mehner said most people have been supportive as they've gone around explaining the plan.
"Baby boomers are intelligent and qualified additions to a community that make it better," Mehner said.