A determined look came over 86-year-old Sid Kahn's face as he prepared to play bingo.
The World War II veteran and retired police officer moved to Tyler three years ago from Los Angeles at the urging of his son, who lives in Gladewater.
“I thought all of Texas was like West Texas. My son described the area, and I didn't believe him,” Kahn said. “He said I should come down for two weeks to visit. When I came here, he took me around the area, and I really liked Tyler.”
The leading edge of the Baby Boomer generation just turned 65 years old, so cities nationwide are positioning themselves to be the place where they relocate.
Ten years into an aggressive campaign to brand itself as a retirement destination, Tyler rapidly is seeing the economic effects of its growing senior population.
In 2001, Tyler became the state's first city to become a certified retirement community, a designation the East Texas Council of Governments handed down based on city characteristics attractive to retirees.
With more than 14.2 percent of Smith County residents age 65 or older, the Tyler area surpasses both state and national averages of 10.3 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively, U.S. Census figures show.
“That's the largest payroll in the county,” Rossler said, adding that most of the money feeds straight back into the community. “It acts like an economic stimulus for the area every month.”
And it's the mailbox income that retirement-geared cities such as Tyler are gunning for, Mullins said.
“They go to the mailbox once or twice a month, and they get checks either from an investment fund they've saved, a corporate pension they've worked for or Social Security,” Mullins said. “Studies show that they spend about 90 percent of that on the local economy.”
In addition to retiree income's direct impact, Tyler's economy has benefited from support services for an aging population, Mullins said.
Between 2002 and 2009 the medical sector grew more than 30 percent, adding 4,400 jobs and accounting for about 20 percent of Tyler's total work force, according to a 2009 Texas Comptroller's study. In 2009, the health care industry contributed more than $1.24 billion to the Tyler economy.
The number of people in Tyler doubles weekdays with the inflow of commuters coming in from outside the city limits to work, shop, eat, visit the doctor or for other reasons.
But the region has mobility and other issues for seniors who live outside the city and might not have the means to get to Tyler.
The Area Agency on Aging in Kilgore provides services to seniors through the Older Americans Act of 1965. The federally funded agency serves a 14-county area that runs from Camp to Cherokee counties and Henderson to Panola counties.
More than 170,000 of the region's residents are 60 or older and qualify for the agency's free services, including a meal program, transportation, counseling, home repair and caregiver respites.
Wilma Desoto, the agency's managing local ombudsman, said transportation is one of the most critical challenges facing seniors, especially in rural areas.
“One of the greatest challenges of aging is not being readily able to get to where you want to go to,” Ms. Desoto said. “It's often difficult to get people to drive you there.”
Computers, Desoto said, have helped reduce the isolation.
Increasing access to the Internet has given seniors the education to make more informed decisions about their own care, Desoto said.
“They're becoming more knowledgeable about what is out there,” she said. “They're learning more about how to go in the right direction to get what they need.”
Octogenarian Sid Kahn said Tyler's Veterans Affairs office factored into the decision to move here from Los Angeles.
The Tyler Senior Center has become a place for him to relax and have fun with other seniors.
“It's a nice facility,” Kahn said. “It's wonderful. I like it, and I really enjoy it.”
Kahn is active and volunteers at the center when he can, making him more than just an economic contributor to the community.
“Sid asked if he could help fix my podium,” senior center supervisor Kay Odom said. “He sanded it and lacquered it himself. He has also helped other seniors by fixing their walkers.”
Ms. Odom thinks the volunteering spirit is a product of the seniors' upbringing.
“They want to help and give back. Sid is a great example.”