If You Do Not Know Where You Are Going You Cannot Get There From Here, Part III

In my original post on this subject, I wrote some suggestions for economic development in the Western Nevada County. One of those three legged stool suggestions, which was original articulated by my friend George Rebane, was:

Leg Three: Create a Brentwood of the Foothills and entice as many wealthy retired folks as possible. We have the climate, the recreation, the restaurants, and the arts that these retires desire, but lack the infrastructure to meet the needs of these wealthy retires.

Now fast forward to an article by Americas foremost social geographer Joel Kotkin writing in Forbes: Where Are The Boomers Headed? Not Back To The City

According to Kotkin, the return of the boomer to the city is an urban legend. Gushing stories in both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal about the boomer return urban life was based on data from a real estate brokerage Redfin. Good maybe for the real estate industry, but the study was seriously flawed, if not flat out wrong, according to the Census Data.  Kotkin:

Indeed, our number-crunching shows that rather than flocking into cities, there were roughly a million fewer boomers in 2010 within a five-mile radius of the centers of the nation’s 51 largest metro areas compared to a decade earlier … with more expensive, denser cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif., saw the worst boomer flight, suffering double-digit percentage losses.

More on the story is HERE, but the bottom line is at the end of the article:

For real estate developers and investors, the ones often most entranced by the “back to the city” story, the lessons are very clear. It makes more sense to follow the numbers, and understand the logic of senior migration, than swallow the snake oil so many have been carelessly imbibing. There are great opportunities in the expanding senior market, including in some uniquely attractive urban districts, but the bigger plays are in outlying areas, and, increasingly, smaller towns.

The towns in Nevada County could be one of those small destination towns, but first our leaders have to get off their collective butts and decide if the community wants to attract these wealthy boomers and build the amenities that they would expect to find in a safer, quieter and affordable community in the foothills.

Boomers account for some 70% of the country’s disposable income, and their spending decisions will shake markets around the country.

Apparently the folks in Placer County got Kotkin’s message, as they are building shopping centers, senior housing and medical facilities.

Why is it that Nevada County is incapable of reading the demographic trends and preparing to leverage our local assets, other than we lack the political will and the leadership necessary to create our version of a Brentwood in the Foothills.

About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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6 Responses to If You Do Not Know Where You Are Going You Cannot Get There From Here, Part III

  1. RL Crabb says:

    I see Mr. Sierra Foothills Report is mocking me on his blog, with inferred racism to boot. Well, I guess I’m in good company…


  2. stevefrisch says:

    Well we could get into an interesting discussion here about who ‘Americas foremost social geographer’ is, but since Richard Florida is now at the University of Toronto even though he comes from working class American roots, I will defer. I thought enough of Joel Kotkin to have him headline the 2008 Sierra Business Council conference, even though we bookended him with a panel of CEO’s talking about what businesses need in a community to attract workers, and Robert Kennedy talking about the value of ecological assets in community building. Of late, Joel has become a sort of provocateur, but without provocateurs could we have interesting conversations?

    The great American urban planning debate about inner city, versus suburb, versus exurb, versus rural, will never end, and there will be a wide variety of both opinions and studies purporting to demonstrate the truth. No one I know is making the case that there is not a meaningful role for the suburb or the exurban region, they are merely making the case that those regions are not for everyone, and subsidizing them reduces choices for younger urban dwellers and empty nesters who may prefer a more urban environment.

    But the take away, that the ‘senior’ market is growing, valuable, and important to attract is probably true, at least for the next 20 years as those of us born between 1945-1963 retire and expire. That is not to say that the senior market should be the sole target of designing and building a whole community, particularly if one looks at the data on how economic innovation occurs in age and ethnically diverse areas; it seems to me the goal in a world of limited resources should be building amenities that appeal to a wide range of users, but that does mean that seniors are an important component. It is also true that seniors are a relatively easy component to attract to western Nevada County, as Russ said the assets they want are already there, and the assets needed to attract more are relatively easy to add; a variety of housing, health care and diversity of experiences.


    • Russ Steele says:


      I agree that Richard Florida has some good ideas on how to attract creative people to a communities economic center. I have read many of his books and agree with some of his suggestions. However, one of his keys components for attracting and keeping young creative types is a well known university, or a smaller college with innovative programs like college described in Part IV of this series. Your thoughts?


  3. Todd Juvinall says:

    The County General Plan is the reason. Read it closely and then you will see why developers stay away. I have no hope fr us. Look at Rincon del Rio and the San Juan Mine applications and you will see why our popul;ation has been stagnant for twenty years. We have adopted the Nevada City philosophy as the county planning document.


  4. RL Crabb says:

    Yes, comparing Truckee to the rest of Nevada County is like apples and oranges. (And I see that our portly “expert” is getting some negative feedback on his critique. ) In a realistic world, Truckee would be the county seat of Tahoe County. Their economy is much more dependent on the traffic that passes through town toward the lake. Perhaps there is an inbred fear of turning our end of the road into a giant retirement village. The tech industry is much sexier, and gravitates toward the future rather than the old and decaying past.
    I spent last weekend in San Francisco, and yesterday at the Galleria in Roseville. I’d say seventy-five percent of all the people I saw were thirty or younger. Quite a contrast with all the white hairs you see in NC. Without a major college, this area doesn’t really have much to offer the young, except for some who are trying to earn a living by farming or arts and crafts. I don’t see much future for the tech side, we just don’t have the “hip” culture and amenities that the city kids are looking for.


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