El Paso County a leader in baby boomer planning

El Paso County is ahead of other counties when it comes to planning for the silver tsunami, according to national experts who study the issue.

Local community leaders are already rallying around the topic of aging trying to plan for the estimated 82,000 baby boomers, those over age 65, who will live in El Paso County by 2015.

The workforce will change, home-buying patterns will change, and there will be a need for new services and products that cater to the aging population, experts said. Most communities have not begun to discuss the boomers’ aging issue because it’s so complex, said Mark Lautman, author of “When Boomers Bail” and founder of Lautman Economic Architecture and the Community Economics Lab in Albuquerque, N.M.

“Colorado Springs is way ahead of everyone else as far as dealing with this issue,” Lautman said. “It’s going to turn almost everything we know about how a community works upside down.”

Lautman was in the Springs this weekend to meet with about 50 local leaders at the Innovations in Aging summit, which was held in conjunction with the Association of Managers of Innovation annual workshop held in the Springs.

“I think the most important thing to do right now is to get data collection and analysis that can measure how you are doing,” Lautman said. “Seven years out is about where you have an influence over what happens.”

Colorado Springs’ boomers are growing at a rate two-and-a-half times the national average, something the Innovations in Aging Collaborative started thinking about years ago. In 2010, the collaborative hosted its first summit to define El Paso County boomers.  And in 2011, the collaborative commissioned a report by local economist Tucker Hart Adams, “Aging in El Paso County,” which lays out county demographics now and in the future.

B.J. Scott, executive director of Peak Vista Foundation and co-founder of Innovations in Aging, said there had been a lot of community discussions in 2008 about the military influx coming to Fort Carson.

“But what about aging?” she asked. “We’ve known since 1948.”

A smaller working group of community leaders will meet this summer to identify one or two projects that can be implemented immediately.

A strategic plan will be hashed out among stakeholders but likely will be some sort of comprehensive communications plan – a way to get information into the hands of the end user. But, the plan will go further to include the creation of “hubs” – places, either real or virtual – where people with the same needs or interests can find information, employment or social outlets.

“We are excited about the next step – strategic planning,” Scott said.

One of the city’s top four priorities in economic vitality is bringing diverse aspects of the community together, including the aging population, said Bob Cope, an economist in the city’s Economic Vitality office.

“We certainly understand how aging will affect the economic vitality of the community,” he said.

Transportation and housing will be issues the city will grapple with in the future, he said. The Springs has always attracted retirees. The challenge is growing the economy faster than the aging population.

Part of the city’s strategy will be to try to attract young professionals to fill the spots opened by boomers, said Dave Csintyan, who has been interim director of the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC.

“The new chamber and EDC have embraced the idea that the economy has to grow faster than the population,” he said. “Looking at this from a business lens, the new merged organization will have to do a lot of heavy lifting to advance this.”