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Retirement Destination: Top Cities for Aging Successfully

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August 12, 2015
Top cities for successful aging

The sheer number of post–World War II babies—the most populous age group in U.S. history—has guaranteed that every stage of baby boomer lives becomes a promotional touch point for corporations, entrepreneurs, innovators, and marketers. They call it the “longevity economy,” and these days it’s aimed at helping this 80-million-strong generation embrace “successful aging” at smart destinations.

To that end, AARP teamed with economic think tank the Milken Institute to identify the “Best Cities for Successful Aging.” Don’t confuse these with the sunniest or cheapest places to retire, or even the most geographically desirable by traditional definitions. The selected cities ranked high on an eight-point chart that includes general indicators, health care, wellness, living arrangements, transportation and convenience, financial characteristics, education and employment, and community engagement.

Not only will these locales have state-of-the-art health care and wellness facilities, but retirees will be able to get to them easily, feel safe and secure, and enjoy a vibrant economy and culture. 

Here are the highlights from Milken/AARP, including why a city works for successful aging and what might be needed for improvement. Not all will fit into the conventional definition of retirement sanctuaries—and, in fact, some of them are the antithesis of frolicking in warm-weather havens—but Milken’s extensive research into what makes aging successful draws on more than a peaceful place to play golf.

Large Metros

#1: Madison, WI

Home to the respected University of Wisconsin, Madison is a hub of innovation and intellectual stimulation. Economic growth gets a boost from UW’s research needs, and quality health care is a big plus. Cultural amenities attract highbrows and regular folk alike, and Madisonians also enjoy the amenities of Chicago, just 150 miles away. Madison’s cost of living, high for the Midwest, remains an issue.

#2: Omaha–Council Bluffs, NE/IA

With five Fortune 500 companies calling it home, greater Omaha generally enjoys financial well-being, low-cost living, and abundant professional opportunities. An emerging health care hub, the area still suffers from unhealthy lifestyles, and safety is an issue.

#3: Provo-Orem, UT

Provo has drawn many older residents in recent years. Slowed economic growth bumped it from its top spot in the 2012 ranking, but its healthy, engaged lifestyles and safe environment shine.

#4: Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA/NH

Few can match the greater Boston area’s cachet when it comes to innovation, education, and endless choices for culture vultures. Still, rising costs tarnish this home to more than 100 colleges and universities.

#5: Salt Lake City, UT

Although Utah’s capital is economically solid, with adequate financial infrastructure and a well-educated citizenry, older adults are not strangers to financial distress. Fast food is too prevalent, but healthy lifestyles and smart eating choices help thwart diet-related disease.

Small Metros

#1: Iowa City, IA

With a top-notch health care system, a strong economy, and low unemployment, Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, is an attractive option for encore careers and those seeking good health services. Chronic disease rates are low, with residents making healthy lifestyle choices. A caveat to the upbeat economic picture: the area may be pricing itself beyond the reach of many older people.

#2: Sioux Falls, SD

Continued expansion of its health care system positions Sioux Falls to meet its growing population’s demand for services. Cultural attractions are a draw, but housing may not be affordable for older residents.

#3: Columbia, MO

Columbia, home to the University of Missouri, offers educational opportunities and a strong health care system. Consumer-driven industries are propelling economic growth and unemployment. Downside: long waits in the ER.

#4: Bismarck, ND

Enjoying North Dakota’s oil boom, the capital region has seen service-sector growth. Low unemployment and robust economic opportunity bode well for encore careers. A lack of specialty care hospitals dents the appeal.

#5: Rapid City, SD

Recreational and cultural lures—don’t miss the downtown City of Presidents—combine with a strong economy to boost Rapid City’s appeal. Concerns include unhealthy eating, meager access to conveniences, and a lack of home health care providers, caregivers, and nursing beds.

Hands-On Retirement Planning

Retirement planning isn’t a set it-and-forget it proposition. Your plans take thoughtful care, and the help of professionals.