Smithfield is learning how to become a state-certified retirement destination.
Councilman Perry Harris is assembling a committee to explore how Smithfield can apply successfully for the N.C. Certified Retirement Community Program. That new initiative promotes chosen cities and towns as perfect for retirees.
Harris began putting the committee together after Andre Nabors of the state’s Tourism Division spoke about the certification program at the Sept. 2 Town Council meeting.
The committee will make sure Smithfield meets the state’s criteria for becoming a certified retirement community. Those criteria include engaged local government; support from the community, including churches and businesses; and plans to establish a committee for retiree recruitment. Also, certified cities and towns must be within 30 miles of a hospital.
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With a healthy downtown, shopping centers, an abundance of cheap housing and a community college, Smithfield already has the potential to be a retirement destination, Harris said. The only thing Smithfield isn’t doing is advertising its assets, he said.
“The things that a town needs to qualify – we have those and more,” Harris said. “We have so many things that should be attractive to a retiree.”
Plus, he said, Smithfield has one thing other Johnston County towns – a state-of-the-art hospice house.
“We don’t want to think about dying, but for retirees, that’s very important,” Harris said.
The General Assembly created the N.C. Certified Retirement Community Program in 2008, putting aside some money to make North Carolina more attractive to retirees. Asheboro, Eden, Lumberton, Marion, Mount Airy, Pittsboro and Sanford are among the towns that have already earned certification.
Nabors said the program has no cap on how many towns can qualify. “The more towns that join, the better the program does in representing the wide variety of what the state has to offer to potential retirees,” he said.
Nabors said Smithfield has a lot of potential as a retiree destination and possible retirement community location.
“Smithfield is a great location due to its proximity to Raleigh, RDU, I-95 and the beach; housing cost; downtown and amenities such as shopping, recreation and health care facilities,” he wrote in an email.
Funding for the program comes from the state’s tourism budget and from the cost of joining, including a $10,000 application fee. The Retire N.C. team works with its towns to help them with marketing and with development of retirement communities.
“Our main goal is really to have more people come to North Carolina, stay longer and spend more money,” Nabors said in his presentation to the council.
To apply, communities have to submit a comprehensive retiree-specific marketing campaign, establish a retiree action committee and pay the $10,000 application fee. The state encourages towns to seek corporate and community sponsors for the fee.
“If we do it, we want to do it correctly; It’s not just to get a plaque on the wall,” Harris said. “If we’re going to do this, it’s going to be full steam ahead. We want to have a campaign to better the community. It may mean we’ll seek some financial aid from some of the folks in town.”