Retiring in NC for Easy Livin’
Look in your own backyard for a place to retire and stay activeBy Renee C. Gannon
For years, Florida seemed to be the retirement dream mecca. But that has changed, and North Carolina is now one of the top spots for the 55-plus crowd looking for a new place to call home. In 2018, NC gained the third-most retirees of any state, according to a SmartAsset study.
In 2008, the NC General Assembly authorized the NC Department of Commerce to create the Certified Retirement Community (CRC) program as part of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. The town of Lumberton served as the pilot CRC in the program, which now boasts 16 certified communities.
The state’s travel and tourism arm, VisitNC, became the program’s administrator in 2013. After all, visiting an area for leisure is often the first step toward choosing where to retire.
“North Carolina is experiencing a healthy in-migration of retirees to the state, and this program aims to attract retirees and persuade them to put down roots here,“ says Wit Tuttell, executive director of the Commerce Department’s Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development.
The CRC program, also known as RetireNC (retirenc.com), also helps the state hold onto its own retirees by showcasing communities they may see as desirable. A move just a few hours away can keep them closer to family or preferred, familiar spots. These communities are recognized for providing amenities and services for active and productive lifestyles, including volunteer and work opportunities, as well as leisure.
“It’s ultimately about recruiting new residents to our city,” says Judy Yarborough, city marketer for Reidsville. “We target 55-plus active retirees that may still want to work, but are downsizing for retirement. They are moving to areas and opening new businesses, volunteering, teaching classes and are becoming assets to our community.”
Whatever your idea of retirement may be, one of these 16 certified communities will likely fit the bill.
Johnston County became the first county to earn the certification. Located along I-95 and I-40, just east of Raleigh, the county offers five 55-plus retirement communities, along with golf courses and riverfront living. Cultural attractions include Smithfield’s Ava Gardner museum, the Rudy Theatre in Selma, Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site, shopping at the Carolina Outlets, exploring the Neuse River greenway, Howell Woods and Clemmons Forest and visiting downtowns such as Clayton and Benson.
Situated at the elbow of the Chowan River and the Albemarle Sound in northeastern NC, Edenton offers a low cost of living, historic homes and cultural opportunities in history, art and recreation. Edenton has a plethora of volunteer opportunities in historic sites, the arts community and social organizations. Its historic downtown houses restaurants, coffee shops, boutique stores and hardware stores. Arnold Palmer and Dan Maples golf courses are nearby.
Located in the northeastern corner of NC, Elizabeth City’s waterfront area along the Pasquotank River, “Harbor of Hospitality,” is a favorite among locals and visitors. The city boasts about its historic, art-centric downtown, the Museum of the Albemarle and live entertainment at the Maguire Theater. The area houses championship golf course living, recreational sailing, kayaking, fishing, biking, and is close to Outer Banks beaches and Norfolk, Virginia.
Located in the Piedmont, just south of Greensboro, with access to four major interstates, the area offers a small-town atmosphere with big city amenities. More than 40 parks, greenways, hiking trails, two recreational lakes and 10 golf courses are available to residents. Its Main Street corridor holds breweries, wine bars, restaurants, theater and the arts, even a baseball stadium for the High Point Rockers.
Located on Highway 74 along the state’s southern border, between Charlotte and Wilmington, Laurinburg and Scotland County feature community-based economic development, cultural involvement, and recreational access such as the 147-mile bicycle route that links various points of interest throughout the county, including the Lumber River. The annual Storytelling Festival, the Scotland County Highland Games and the John Blue Cotton Festival are highlights of the area’s growing arts program.
Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and located between Boone and Hickory, Lenoir in Caldwell County offers outdoor recreation, including the Lenoir Greenway, the Catawba River Valley and Wilson Creek. Outdoor sculptures are just one part of the arts scene. The Caldwell Arts Council hosts a Sculpture Celebration every September, and local musicians are highlighted on the Blue Ridge Natural Heritage Music Trail. The historic downtown offers free Wi-Fi, unique boutiques, restaurants, microbreweries and a distillery on the Carolina Distillery Trail.
Lumberton in Robeson County set the tone for NC’s retirement communities as the first town to earn certification. Located on I-95 in southeastern NC, Lumberton offers a moderate climate, affordable housing, inexpensive cost of living and lower taxes. Arts, music, theatre and outdoor activities are within a short drive, especially paddling, boating and fishing in the Lumber River and area lakes. Easy access to Interstate 74 means a route to both the mountains and the coast.
Marion in McDowell County is “Where Main Street meets the Mountains.” The town, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway between Highways 70 and 221, is known for creating citizen engagement and strong partnerships to help economic development. Low tax rates, lower-than-national average cost of living, and community resources that include an arts council and community theatre, as well as access to four state parks, have led residents to call this small town home. Asheville, Morganton, Hickory and Boone are also just a short drive away.
Mount Airy is more than just Mayberry. While it encompasses the small-town charm of Sheriff Andy’s home in northwest NC, the town has grown into its own as it offers a historic downtown, outings to Pilot Mountain State Park and paddles along the Yadkin River, local wineries and breweries and a growing arts scene, including the Mount Airy Fiddlers’ Convention. Mount Airy is located near the Virginia border and within two hours of major urban areas such as Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Charlotte.
The 300-year-old city of New Bern is located where the Neuse and Trent Rivers meet on the central coast of NC. Its historic residential and business districts and its downtown area offer both a look into the area’s past as well as a look at the modern aspects of life. Residents enjoy the annual Spring Historic Homes and Gardens Tour, and arts and culture including two local theatre companies, as well as a growing downtown farmers market, the waterfront, and creeks and lakes that support an active lifestyle.
“Live Simply. Think Big.” That’s the motto for Reidsville, located in Rockingham County just north of Greensboro. Its low cost of living, small shops, restaurants, a farmers market and community arts in a historic downtown, as well as burgeoning volunteer opportunities throughout the community, has added to the town’s growing quality of life — not to mention access to outdoor activities at Lake Reidsville, 10 area golf courses, and nearby walking trails and greenways.
Located along the Roanoke River in northeastern NC, just below the Virginia border, Roanoke Rapids offers a slower pace of life. “Rushing river water can take the edge off rocks and people!” as a local saying goes. This area in Halifax County features Roanoke Rapids Lake, Lake Gaston, Medoc Mountain State Park, Sylvan Heights Bird Park and the Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail. Historic Halifax offers a revolutionary education. The art scene includes Riverside Mill’s gallery of craft art, Lakeland Theatre Company and the Roanoke Rapids Theatre. The area offers a rural lifestyle that includes amenities of city living.
Located in the Piedmont between Greensboro and Charlotte, Salisbury honors its past through historic preservation while growing within the modern world. The town’s mission is to be an inclusive community, recognizing that its residents come from various backgrounds and are generational. The city offers a wide range of cultural, recreational and volunteer opportunities, with three performance theatres, local shops, restaurants and breweries; outdoor activities such as High Rock Lake, greenways and six area golf courses.
This “front porch kind of town” has been welcoming people home for more than 250 years. Located in Edgecombe County in eastern NC along the Tar River, the downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places and its Town Common is one of only two original town commons remaining in the U.S. The year-round, mild-to-warm climate is ideal for walking and biking trails, river paddling and fishing. Tarboro offers affordable cost of living at a slower pace.
Voted as one of America’s coolest small towns, Washington is a historic coastal destination, that when added to the other small towns in Beaufort County such as Bath, Belhaven, Chocowinity, Aurora and Pantego, creates a community full of history, art, locally owned shops, restaurants and outdoor activities that include golfing, paddling and boating. While living a small-town life, residents also have big town amenities a short drive away in Greenville.
Located just outside of the university city of Greenville in eastern NC, Winterville is a family town of less than 10,000 surrounded by urban amenities. Recently ranked as one of the 50 safest towns in the country, Winterville offers the best of both worlds. There are local shops and restaurants, and a close proximity to a growing arts scene. Outdoor activities include paddling along the Tar River. And every August, the town holds its annual Watermelon Festival.
Taking care during the golden years