A Great Place to Retire
By Rob Swenson
For the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
When Lois Roelofs moved to Sioux Falls, she wondered if she appeared dehydrated because people frequently offered her a bottle of water. "Then I figured out that people were just being friendly," she said. "I'd never had anyone offer me a bottle of water at a business before."
Roelofs, 77, is a retired nursing professor who lived in the Chicago area for about 50 years. She and her late husband, Marv, moved to Sioux Falls in June 2016 to retire.
Relocating from a downtown high-rise overlooking Lake Michigan to a quiet twin home in a small city was a big change in lifestyle. She still loves visiting Chicago, but she has embraced life as a retiree in Sioux Falls. She even writes a blog about it.
"I think this is a fine place to be," she said. "I have access to everything that I had in Chicago, but less of it."
Classes offered in Sioux Falls through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI, has been a saving grace for her, she said. She would appreciate a better system of public transportation and more cultural opportunities on weekday afternoons. But the community has a lot going for it, including friendliness, cleanliness and outdoor beauty, she said.
For Roelofs and her husband, who passed away in 2018, a daughter and two grandchildren were the main attraction that led them to Sioux Falls. Moving closer or staying close to children or other family members is a common motivator for retirees in Sioux Falls, who experts say have a substantial impact on the economy of the growing city.
"It used to be that you'd see the kids moving to be closer to mom and dad. Now you're seeing the opposite," said Darla Van Rosendale, CEO at Dow Rommel Village, a retirement home in Sioux Falls. "You're seeing mom and dad move closer to the kids when they need that support."
That trend is largely driven by the good jobs that Sioux Falls provides retirees' children, Van Rosendale said.
Features such as good healthcare systems also are major attractions for retirees who move to the city from elsewhere in South Dakota, neighboring states and beyond, Van Rosendale and others said. Sanford Health and Avera Health are two large and growing healthcare providers that serve Sioux Falls and many other communities in the region.
Amenities such as activities and South Dakota's tax climate are among other factors that appeal to retirees.
Cold winters might be the biggest deterrent.
"I think as along as the two large hospital associations grow, we're going to have more and more need for housing retirees – everything from condo-style apartments to skilled nursing," Van Rosendale said.
Dow Rommel has about 275 residents in living in facilities for independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care. The complex is in the process of opening a new, 60-apartment building to provide more assisted living and memory care services.
Jason Honey, marketing director at the Trail Ridge Senior Living Community, said Sioux Falls is a retirement hub. People have moved to Trail Ridge from all over the country. During 2017, for example, in addition to South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, new residents came to Trail Ridge from Arizona, California, Florida, Missouri and New Jersey.
New residents typically have a connection to Sioux Falls, such as children, the need for medical services or a desire for the state's tax incentives, Honey said.
Trail Ridge offers seniors independent living, assisted living or memory care residential options. The complex employs about 150 people and relies heavily on part-timers.
Attracting and retaining enough employees can be challenging because unemployment in Sioux Falls is only about 2.5 percent.
Hospitals employ as well as treat seniors.
In addition to providing medical care for a lot of Sioux Falls' older residents, the city's two major hospital systems are large employers that rely heavily on seniors as part-time workers and volunteers.
Sanford Health partners with Active Generations to help identity prospective workers of retirement age, said Darren Walker, vice president of human resources at Sanford Health.
About 9 percent of Sanford's overall, regional workforce is of retirement age, which the organization considers to be 62.5 years or older. In Sioux Falls, the percentage is closer to 10 percent, Walker said. The industry average is about 8 percent.
Sanford also has about 400 active volunteers, and 42 percent of them are of retirement age. Sanford employs about 9,500 in the Sioux Falls area, and that was before the recent merger of Sanford Health and the Good Samaritan Society.
Sanford values its retirement-aged employees and volunteers, Walker said. "They do wonderful work," he said. With the city's low unemployment rate, anything the community can do to attract older people would be good, he said.
"Were really blessed in Sioux Falls with healthcare as an economic driver, with the two large health systems," Walker said. The systems offer some of the best heath care in the United States, he said.
Avera Health also actively recruits and values older residents as workers and volunteers.
"They're a great workforce. They're responsible. They show up. They're very caring. They're some of our best workforce," said David Flicek, president and CEO at the Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center.
About 1,200 people volunteer at facilities affiliated with McKennan. Overall, Avera employs nearly 7,100 people in the Sioux Falls metropolitan area.
Sioux Falls has all the ingredients to be a great place to retire, Flicek said: excellent healthcare services, solid schools, strong business community, good local government and amenities such as the Washington Pavilion.
The community probably should think more about the older population and how to make the city an attractive place for them to not only live but work or volunteer, Flicek said.
"You just can't say enough about the city of Sioux Falls and how attractive it is. Its low cost of living and no state income tax. That, alone, helps me attract new doctors that want to come and work here and serve this population into the future," he said.
Executives at the Active Generations Center in Sioux Falls said that while healthcare is a big attraction for retirees, many older residents want to be engaged in the community. Sioux Falls provides a lot of opportunities for people, especially those 50 and older, said Rod Carlson, director of public relations and marketing, and Tiffany Geveshausen, a member relations staffer.
Active Generations, which has about 3,000 members, is one of the first places a lot of new retirees in the community check out. Its features include a fitness center, computer classes and other learning opportunities, and a variety of hobby-oriented clubs and support services. One department is devoted to helping members find jobs.
Forty-five companies were represented at a recent job fair at Active Generations. Phone banks are a popular employer of seniors because they often offer flexible hours, Carlson said.
"What we sell is older folks will come early, stay a little late, and get done what you want to get done, after you've trained them," Carlson said.
Hundreds of Active Generations members also work as volunteers in programs such as Meals On Wheels. "Sioux Falls has so many opportunities. That's what attracts so many people," Geveshausen said.
Regardless of what brings retirees to Sioux Falls or keeps them community, they are a potential labor source and many of them have money to spend.
Recruiting retirees to live in the community is not a strategic priority of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation. However, attracting retirees is beneficial Sioux Falls' economy, said Dean Dziedzic, vice president of the Development Foundation.
A lot of the older people who move to Sioux Falls from other states probably like the community's cost of living and tax structure, he said. A good share of seniors who come to Sioux Falls from rural areas in South Dakota and neighboring states probably want to be closer to good healthcare services, he said.
"What we've heard a lot from a workforce perspective is that while a lot of older people have retired from full-time work, a lot of them want to stay active with part-time jobs," Dziedzic said. Offering flexible work schedules is a good way for employers to attract them, he said.
City's livability is big factor for retirees
AARP has identified what the organization calls "The 8 Domains of Livability" – community features that significantly impact the well-being of older adults. The factors include:
• Outdoor gathering spaces and accessible buildings
• Good public transportation
• Affordable housing options
• Opportunities for social participation
• Respect and social inclusion
• Options for work and civic engagement
• Age-friendly systems for communicating information
• Access to affordable health services
AARP also ranks neighborhoods in an online "Livability Index" for people of all ages. For example, 200 N. Phillips Ave., which is the address of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and is in the middle of Sioux Falls, ranks a relatively high 72 on a 100-point scale. However, livability scores vary from one neighborhood to the next.
The Chamber neighborhood ranks highest in housing access and affordability (97) and lowest in health (52). In addition to the availability of healthcare services, the health category includes factors such as air-quality laws, speed limits and access to healthy food.
Sioux Falls topped a list compiled by 55places of the most affordable places to retire in the U.S. The list measured a series of factors, including overall cost of living, median home prices, state tax laws, local health care options, availability of 55+ communities, and public transit, amongst other variables. The top ranked cities not only offer reasonable housing costs, but also provide exciting amenities and healthy living options. For more information, visit 55places.com
Erik Gaikowski, state director of AARP South Dakota, said Sioux Falls is a great community for people, regardless of whether they are retired. People 50 and older are major drivers of the local and state economies, too, he said.
He suggests that differences in public perception of what appeals to people of different generations is over-rated.
"Millennials and [baby] boomers have a lot in common. If Sioux Falls works to attract millennials, it's making Sioux Falls more attractive to boomers, too," he said.
Potential attractions for retirees that Sioux Falls lacks, according to one retired couple, include neighborhood developments that are designed and cater exclusively to people of retirement age, according to one couple. There are apartment buildings, condominiums and retirement centers marketed for seniors, but no neighborhoods.
Mary Simonsen and Ken Klaus noticed the absence of senior neighborhoods when they moved from the suburban area of Washington, D.C. to Sioux Falls in August 2016. Overall, however, the couple is very pleased with their decision to retire in Sioux Falls. They live in a single-family house in western Sioux Falls that they have extensively remodeled.
Klaus, 63, and Simonsen, 65, were longtime government employees. Klaus worked for the Department of Justice for more than 31 years. Simonsen worked for the Bureau of Prisons for 22 years. They no longer need to work but want to stay active.
When they started researching places to retire, they noticed that Sioux Falls ranked high in livability among American cities, according to Forbes. Simonsen grew up in Yankton, S.D. and has family in the area, so she was familiar with Sioux Falls. Klaus grew up in New Orleans and suburban Detroit, but has family in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"We wanted to get back to a mid-sized city. We'd had enough of the big," Klaus said.
"It was an easier transition for Mary than for me," Klaus said. But he has found Sioux Falls is a good place to live. They enjoy physical activities such as kayaking. Cold winters aren't even an issue with Simonsen, who likes to cross-country ski. Klaus has become a high school football official. Both also are active at the Active Generations Center.
"This is a great place to live. People care about their community," Klaus said.