Businesses Getting Ready for Aging Baby Boomers Health Care Providers Also Make Changes to Meet Their Needs

Article excerpt

Byline: Tim Christie The Register-Guard

They're coming.

A virtual tsunami of baby boomers - about 76 million in the United States, including close to 1 million in Oregon and nearly 100,000 in Lane County - are approaching the Golden Years and all that implies.

The aging of baby boomers brings with it both costs and opportunities, risks and benefits for business owners and service providers. And it promises to profoundly affect the economy for decades to come.

Health care, housing, recreation, tourism and retail are among the sectors that will feel the graying of the post-World War II generation - those born between 1946 and 1964.

Consumers 50 and older have accumulated more spending power than any other age group in history, according to the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey, spending more than $1.7 trillion on goods and services each year. Savvy businesses see the green in that sea of gray.

Those mature consumers are a "sophisticated bunch," said Kelly Kroll, president and founder of After50 Marketing, a marketing and PR firm in Michigan.

"They've got all the money and they're willing to spend it, but they are exacting consumers and exacting shoppers," he said. "They've been around the block. They're doing a lot of research and investigating and comparative shopping before they make purchases."

Savvy retailers recognize that boomers can't be lumped into a single group, said Mike Gatti, executive director of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, part of the National Retail Federation. They've embraced "mosaic marketing," based on lifestyle demographics.

"It's really building a relationship where you understand the consumer," he said. "It's not based on age or income but on lifestyle."

The popularity of what are known as life- style centers has taken off over the past 10 years, fueled in part by affluent boomers looking for a different shopping experience than that provided by regional shopping malls. Lifestyle centers are outdoors, offer a mix of upscale retailers, restaurants and entertainment, and amenities such as fountains, courtyards and street furniture that encourage casual browsing.

Oakway Center in Eugene began its transformation from a neighborhood shopping center to an upscale lifestyle center in the late 1990s, and its mix of stores includes several retailers - Chicos and Coldwater Creek, for example - that target older shoppers, said Steve Korth, director of real estate development for McKay Investment Co., which owns the complex.

"Lifestyle centers as a whole are attractive to that group," he said. "They're a little classier, with a higher end appeal, that's more appropriate to that age bracket."

Oregon has one of the nation's fastest growing boomer populations, according to AARP. The number of both Oregonians and Lane County residents age 65 and older will increase about 85 percent between 2005 and 2025, according to estimates by state economists.

Their sheer numbers will impact almost every industry, but especially health care. PeaceHealth is preparing for the wave by looking for new ways to treat the aged at the recently established Gerontology Institute at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

"It's the largest health care challenge the country faces," said Dan Reece, the institute's executive director.

The institute - the only center of its kind in Oregon - is an outgrowth of work PeaceHealth has been doing for the last decade, at its Center for Community Geriatrics in Eugene and the Senior Health and Wellness Center off Barger Drive.

The program takes an interdisciplinary approach to senior health, where patients are seen not just by doctors and nurses but also by dieticians, pharmacists, audiologists, peer counselors, physical therapists and social workers.

That approach is particularly effective for the 20 to 30 percent of seniors who are frail and require coordination of complex health needs. …