Top 10: Tyler community heads lists of best place to live, retire

Published on Saturday, 12 April 2014 21:47 - Written by Kelly Gooch

Tom Mullins saw something unexpected when he arrived in Minnesota.

Mullins, president and chief executive officer of the Tyler Economic Development Council, was there to see family, and was told to get a copy of USA Today when he got off the plane.

He did and discovered coverage related to Tyler and its designation as a Certified Retirement Community on the front page of the newspaper’s national edition.

Mullins said the publication decided to do a story on the first baby boomers turning 60, and looked at where the retirees would go and places that are retirement friendly.

That was 2006, and Tyler saw tangible economic results for years thanks to the designation and the publicity surrounding it, Mullins said.

Tyler’s designation as a Certified Retirement Community is only one of the designations and rankings the community has received.

Tyler is a Certified Azalea City, Tree City USA and Texas Main Street community. Tyler also is called the “Rose Capital of the World.”

In 2012, the city received the Community of the Year award from the American Planning Association — Texas Chapter.

According to a previous city newsletter, Tyler received the award because of the Industry Growth Initiative plan, which launched in 2010 “as a shared vision for Tyler’s strategic economic growth in the next 20 years.”

Also that year, Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q attracted national attention with mentions in Food & Wine magazine and as one of the best barbecue cities.

Those are only some of the city’s recognitions.

Henry Bell, chief operating officer for the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, said designations the community has received provide more material to market.

He said people look for places to retire and don’t have a reason to go to one place or another. So, he said, they will look at which places are certified retirement communities.

He said retired people add to the local economic base and bring a lot of brainpower.

He said they likely retired from a particular career and can be helpful in certain volunteer work.

Beverly Abell, of the city of Tyler Main Street Department, said via email that “much of the value-added part of being a designated Main Street community in Texas can be recounted in terms of training opportunity, knowledge base, network and services.”

“For instance, communities within the Texas Main Street Program have access to the services of a preservation-oriented architect on the staff of the state program,” she said. “This architect assists property owners in Main Street program areas with renderings, site visits (when available), signage design and recommendations and more at no cost to the property owner.

“Main Street program communities also have access to a vast range of training opportunities and experts that would be very difficult to find or financially impossible to access otherwise. This includes services in architecture, economic development, special events, historic preservation and more. We also have our state and national network of Main Street program staff, some of whom have served more than 20 years in the downtown economic development realm.”

Tyler Parks and Recreation Director Stephanie Rollings said Tree City USA was a recommendation born out of the city’s original Tyler 21 Comprehensive Plan, which is now called Tyler 1st.

She said the community must apply for the designation each year, meet strict criteria and spend a certain amount of money on tree preservation and planting in order to stay a Tree City USA community.

Ms. Rollings said the title of “Rose Capital of the World” has “put us on the map” when it comes to the rose industry, the Texas Rose Festival and Tyler being a tourist destination.

“Having the designation has increased our national spotlight …” she said. “No other municipality offers the largest municipal rose garden.”

Aside from those designations, Mullins said many rankings come out each year, and Tyler can be at the top of a list one year, and then a formula change can cause the city’s position to drop significantly.

Last year, both Tyler and Longview ranked in the Top 10 “Best Performing Small Cities” by the Milken Institute.

It’s “kind of a general economic health indicator,” Mullins said.

He said another list on which Tyler ranked high was from Robert Charles Lesser & Co. Tyler ranked No. 2 in the small city category for overall economic activity and performance, Mullins said.

“The cities ranked ahead of us on those lists were driven by energy (shale oil and gas) whereas ours was showing strong growth in technology, specifically telecommunications,” he wrote in an email.

Another list, he said, was from the U.S. Census Bureau. Tyler ranked No. 10 in regard to average growth in median earnings per capita from 2007 to 2011. During that time period, Tyler had a 14.5 percent increase, Mullins said via email.

Additionally, Tyler recently ranked No. 35 in a list of Cities on the Rise in Texas in an analysis from the Martin Prosperity Institute.

Tyler had a 3.2 percent increase in working-age population growth, a 0.2 percent increase in employment growth and a 5.6 percent increase in median income growth from 2009 to 2012, according to the analysis.

Tyler Assistant City Manager/Communications Director Susan Guthrie said the designations and rankings overall showcase the city’s “tremendous quality of life.”

She said some designations are related to quality of life, while others are related to jobs and economic vitality, but when Tyler begins to get these awards, designations and rankings, it means the city is “among the best of the best,” and “shows a robust community.”

Even the city’s current AAA bond rating, she said, is not only about financial management but looking at the community’s vitality.

The financial angle, the quality of life angle and receiving the Community of the Year award — “that’s saying … ‘You guys are doing a good job …’” Ms. Guthrie said.

“All of that says this is a great place to live and … I think it just says we’re a well-balanced” place, she added.

Additionally, Ms. Guthrie noted that the city has no general obligation debt. She said she attends various conferences and can’t name another similar-sized place that could say the same.

She said she also is proud of the fact that Tyler has achieved more than $5 million in savings through the Lean Six Sigma Program.

“That’s our own employees working hard to do more with less. Those are the kind of things we’re just really joyful” about, Ms. Guthrie said.

She said via email that there are bicycle-related designations/rankings that the city could go after at a future time.

Meanwhile, Ms. Guthrie said she is aware that there is discussion within the Mayor’s Veterans Roundtable in regard to becoming the most veteran-friendly community in the U.S.

This story contains some information from Tyler Morning Telegraph archives.