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Retirees can aid W.Va. economy, study finds

| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 12:42 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is an attractive place for retirees and more could be done to entice them to live in the state, according to a study conducted for the state Division of Tourism.

Expanding efforts to attract retirees is among the top strategies recommended by the West Virginia Ten Year Tourism Plan prepared by Arlington, Va.-based AECOM Technical Services Inc. The study was released during a recent tourism conference in Shepherdstown.

“In West Virginia, the potential for growth in the retirement industry is high,” the study said. “Among the key factors that retirees consider in selecting a retirement location are proximity to family and friends and cost of living. West Virginia is very attractive in both regards.

“The economic benefits of retirees in a community have been well documented,” the study said. “Retiree residents generally pay the full range of state and local taxes but consume little in the way of public services, and they frequently buy or build new homes.”

The study recommended changing the way second homes are taxed in the state.

“One factor that second home owners consider in their purchasing decision is property taxes. The current tax law in West Virginia essentially doubles the tax rate on second homes by classifying homes that do not serve as primary residences as commercial property,” the study said.

Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver told the Charleston Daily Mail that the retirement findings are “a little bit of a surprise.” She said she believes they will prompt some of the tourism leaders in the state to think more about the topic.

The study said West Virginia is in a good position to capitalize on the trend in which travelers are taking more trips that are shorter. It notes that more than 42 million people live within surrounding states.

“If you look around, for instance at the Baltimore-Washington-northern Virginia metro area, there's certainly a great audience there to try to educate about our opportunities — rafting, skiing, our forests — depending on which geographic area you're talking about,” Carver said.

The Boy Scouts of America Summit Bechtel Reserve, which is scheduled to open in 2013 in Fayette County, offers a potential economic boost, the study said.

“I think the study shows us how we can improve an already good thing, tourism. We've got a good base to build upon, and we've got a study to point us toward that,” said state Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming.

“We are the backyard of the East, and we ought to capitalize on that,” Browning said. “We ought to draw people here, get them to spend money here. At first, it may not create the best jobs, but when you get people in the area spending money, that stimulates other areas of the economy.”

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