Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Are Changing Business for States and Cities

News media have been contemplating implications of the oldest Baby Boomers turning 65 this year. This is a symbolic passage but nevertheless thought worthy. Around 10,000 will reach the milestone daily for the next nineteen years. Never has the nation dealt with population aging of this magnitude.

As critics see it, Boomer aging represents a dark cloud, a generational storm gathering over the social safety net. Detractors employ disquieting language such as "predicament," "sinking ship," and "unsustainable." In Boomer vernacular, you might just call it a bummer.

But the facts speak to a different vision of the future. This generation is proffering unprecedented growth prospects for states and cities that envision and embrace economic development potential.

Since the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, Colorado's delegates to the decennial forum have been meeting to create a strategic plan and organizational framework for aging called Silverprint Colorado. Their current goals are specific, but their vision is farsighted: to help Colorado become the leading state in the nation to embrace opportunities of an aging population.

Other states are addressing the Boomer aging opportunity by organizing initiatives similar to Silverprint, with civic and business leaders forging creative public and private partnerships to "ride the age wave." Virginia's Older Dominion Partnership is noteworthy for its momentum.

I was keynote speaker recently for the The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, and over 200 business executives and civic leaders crowded into this half-day workshop, eager to understand possibilities. Sarasota is actively retooling its brand and amenities to better accommodate the Boomer age wave, thereby strengthening its position as one of the nation's most desirable retirement locations. A majority of attendees are also involved either directly or indirectly in nonprofits.

And the timing couldn't be better. A generation of social and business innovators has matured, reaching a life-stage typically dedicated to creating legacies. According to a recent study by Convio and Edge Research, Boomers on average give $901 to 5.2 charities annually.

Now, consider a macroeconomic perspective. People over age 50 represent 30 percent of the population nationwide, but they own 65 percent of the aggregate net worth of all U.S. households. Boomers earn $2.6 trillion annually to spend on goods and services, far exceeding any other generational cohort. They control $28 trillion of the nation's assets and will inherit around $10.8 trillion from their parents.

Boomers are ushering in a "golden age" for tourism, community college education, healthcare, biotechnology, retirement housing, pharmaceuticals, entrepreneurialism, aging-in-place technologies, luxury products, philanthropy, civic engagement, financial services, grand parenting, retailing, traditional media, and online businesses. Every one of these high-growth business sectors creates jobs, careers and tax revenues to help all generations prosper. Boomer spending is already producing many new jobs for young people, as anyone working for hotels and resorts can confirm.

Lindsey Ueberroth, President of Preferred Hotel Group, summed it up with her recent comments to the International Luxury Travel Market: "Preferred Hotel Group believes that the travel industry is on the verge of a true golden age. The opportunities to serve the Boomers are vast. We are going to seek out the Boomers. We are going to serve them well and often. And, we are going to share in the growth and prosperity that they will generate. This is a turning point."

When you investigate business prospects in other sectors, you'll hear the same refrains: Boomers are the future. They are buying retirement homes, running organic foods businesses, returning to college, and starting up new companies at the rate of 10,000 per month, 16% faster than any other generational group. They are serving as newly elected governors for states across the nation, like Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, and John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

Contrary to naysayers, this generation is reinventing aging, from business and nonprofit innovation to public policy leadership. This generation presents a menu of extraordinary business and civic opportunities for those who understand the implications and embrace a reasoned and realistic vision of the future.