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Stories Added - March 2009
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CRC brand could bring silver to local businesses
Polk County Enterprise - March 2009
LIVINGSTON – Polk County could soon become Texas’ next Certifi ed Retirement Community (CRC), bringing marketing funds and retirees along with the distinction. For about a year, Debbie Harlow has been working on behalf of the Commissioner’s Court to study, gather and prepare the data for the report that will be submitted next month. The Texas Department of Agriculture provides funding for the program which is designed to attract retirees to appropriately sized communities with the amenities most sought by them. A comprehensive 177-page document will be presented to the application committee in Austin along with photographs of various scenic locations, facilities and cultural events in Polk County. Along with this information is a “score sheet” comprised of the various elements considered desirable by retirees. Polk County exceeded the minimum 150 points required to apply. A few of the most important amenities the state considers are affordable and plentiful housing, access to medical facilities and recreational and cultural opportunities. Harlow’s report included: • A written community overview that relates the county’s historical signifi cance, its current role in the region and state and the community’s plans for further development and expansion. • A detailed demographic assessment of the county, its geographical, climate and other data. • The current tax structure at the state and local levels with examples of average and median tax bills. • A thorough report on the housing opportunities, availability and pricing for the county. • Personal safety, security and crime statistics. • Employment outlook and opportunities. • Healthcare and emergency medical services. • Public transportation and major highways. • Continuing education opportunities. • Leisure living, recreational areas and facilities, festivals and events and sports.
Polk County, with approximately 46,000 residents, is considered one of the fastest growing counties in Texas with a 34 percent increase in population between 1990 and 2000, ranking 19th in the state. Nearly 80 percent of residents live outside of an incorporated area. The median age of the county’s residents is 39 and as of 2006 there was a average income of $30,498 per person. The number of blue collar to white collar workers is nearly evenly distributed with 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent respectively. The report gives the average low and high temperatures – 49 degrees in January and 91 degrees in July – the average annual rainfall of 48 inches and the prevailing southeasterly winds. Local housing units were listed as 18,662 in 1990 and that number has grown to an estimated 23,379 in 2007 and is projected to increase to 23,405 by 2012. As of the 2000 Census, 71 percent of those structures were occupied. The bulk of the homes in Polk County – 79.9 percent – have been built since 1970, with one quarter of them built in the last 10 years. The average new home price range is $109,000 to $289,000 with construction costs at $70 to $85 per square foot. Apartments rent for between $350 and $595 on average. Nearly 60 percent of the homes in Polk County are valued below $60,000. Crime volume in Polk County is less than 80 percent of the state average, with 2,768 crimes committed in 2007 per 100,000 people. Employment opportunities in the county are found primarily in the educational, health and social services areas (19.4 percent), retail trade (11.7 percent) and manufacturing and construction (10 percent each). When it comes to healthcare, Polk County has double the number of registered nurses per person than the state as a whole.
That 2 to 1 ratio applies to direct care physicians as well. Primary care physicians in Polk County also have a higher number per 100,000 residents than the state. Along with these statistics were comprehensive lists of all the recreational and leisure activities in the area, restaurants and cafes, sports teams and events, educational opportunities and contact information for utilities and other service providers. The target market that Harlow has identified for the county includes retirees living in Houston looking to escape the fast-paced lifestyle, those in more rural areas seeking more amenities, those seeking a lower cost of living and those looking for a warmer climate. As part of a balanced report, weaknesses of the county had to be looked at as well. These included the need for more public transportation, particularly those which support the elderly and disabled. There is also a need for more businesses with extended hours of operation, better availability of websites for businesses and organizations and more housing geared toward retirees, specifically independent, assisted or extended care facilities. The dangers cited by the proposal were the increased burden on infrastructure presented by an influx of retirees, failure to meet basic housing needs, increased fuel prices prohibiting travel to and from the area for tourism and expansion of crime from the Houston area. The county’s plan addresses these issues with possible solutions ranging from strengthening partnerships with existing entities to curtail problems before they arise.
These possibilities include involvement in finding additional incentives for public transportation expansion, identifying means to promote extended operating hours of medical facilities and restaurants and having a MySpace account for the county. The county would also consider involvement in fledging state programs like “Texas Forest Country” and “The Texas Pineywoods Experience.” While Debbie Harlow was the CRC Project Coordinator, there was an advisory board/panel assembled to assist with the compilation of the reports and to develop a vision for the direction the county will go. The board members include: Angie Carr from Escapees Inc., David LeMonte from Memorial Medical Center-Livingston, Sheriff Kenneth Hammack, Sharon Miller with the Alabama- Coushatta Tribe, Chamber of Commerce Director Sydney Murphy, Director of Polk County Industrial Development Corp. Kelly Ritch, Corrigan City Manager Mandy Risinger, Sheila Smith of Smith Properties, Livingston City Manager Marilyn Sutton, Kodi Owens of Workforce Solutions, Onalaska Mayor Lew Vail, Polk County Judge John Thompson, Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent and Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis.