Carteret County makes a name for itself as a retirement haven

Carteret County has been designated as a Certified Retirement Community by RetireNC, making it the first North Carolina oceanfront community to receive the certification. With resources like the Leon Mann Center and easy access to an active outdoor lifestyle, the county has more than earned its reputation.

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Abbey Slattery
, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, Crystal Coast Economic Development Foundation.

Carteret County is giving Florida a run for its money. With miles of sandy beaches, a renowned health care system, low taxes and mild year-round weather, the Crystal Coast has made a name for itself as not only a top tourist destination, but also a top destination for retirees.

In fact, in August the county received the honor of being designated as a Certified Retirement Community by RetireNC following a rigorous review process. This certification — which gives communities access to Visit North Carolina's RetireNC marketing programs and events — is only held by a handful of other communities in the state, with Carteret County being the first Certified Retirement Community to be located on the oceanfront.

"We have 11 distinct towns and many other unincorporated communities, each with its own unique personality, so we have a location for everyone, regardless of what you're looking for and how you're living your daily life," said Economic Development Officer Michele Querry, who chairs the county's Retiree Attraction Committee. "Being on the water is another thing that sets the county apart. Here, you can have an active outdoor lifestyle, you can be surrounded by beautiful natural resources, and you have the ability to easily access the water from anywhere in the county."

In order to qualify as a Certified Retirement Community, a city or county must meet a lengthy set of criteria. Each community must have attributes that appeal to retirees, be located within 50 miles of a hospital and/or emergency medical services and receive expressions of support from local organizations, clubs, businesses, media outlets and other entities whose participation would help enhance the community's potential to attract retirees.

The work to develop a marketing plan, brainstorm a long-term retiree recruitment strategy, and outline future plans for how the community will maintain its appeal for retirees was undertaken by the county's Retiree Attraction Committee, which represents a diverse group of county leaders. In addition to chairing the committee, Querry played a key role in compiling data for Carteret County's application, collecting over 30 letters of support from local organizations, and she is working with a software development company to create an app through which retirees can take virtual tours.

"We are delighted with the decision by RetireNC to include Carteret County among the state's Certified Retirement Communities, and we are excited to be able to partner with them on North Carolina's retiree recruitment efforts," she said.

Chief among the many local supporting partners is the Leon Mann Center in Morehead City, a Senior Center of Excellence for the State of North Carolina. Leon Mann Center personnel regularly organize events and enrichment opportunities for retirees in Carteret County, while soliciting feedback and input from retirees and other seniors in order to continue strengthening their offerings.

"Retirees now are looking for opportunities to continue to be active — not just physically active, but socially active and to volunteer and participate in their specialized interests. You can find that here in Carteret County, and I believe that you can find a lot of it here within the Leon Mann Center, too," said Lakisha Williams, director of the Leon Mann Center. "Our resources include health screenings, counseling about insurance, medical transportation, legal services, tax preparation, and caregiver support groups, among many others. We also have in-home aid services, lunch Monday through Friday, and home-delivered meals."

Aside from providing much-needed resources like health and wellness counseling and meals, the center also boosts the social and recreational life of retirees in the community. The center hosts dances twice a month on Friday nights, an annual senior expo filled with a variety of vendors — including fitness centers, farmer's markets, and in-home aid services, and Olympic-style senior games complete with an arts category for less active participants.

For Williams, some of the highlights of the center are the day trips, overnight trips, and out-of-state trips that the staff organizes. The group recently returned from a cruise in March and plans to go to New York City in December, if COVID travel constraints are lifted. Previous destinations have included New Orleans and Tennessee.

Thanks to resources like the Leon Mann Center, retirement in Carteret county is the start of another exciting adventure.

"The possibilities of how you retire here are varied and unique, and I say that partly because of the atmosphere of community. Emerald Isle's town motto is 'Nice matters,' and I really believe that slogan could be county-wide," said Williams. "What's so great about Carteret County is that if the center doesn't have it, I know where you can get it. I'm able to connect you with the person or the organization or agency in which you are interested."

While the Leon Mann Center is a major selling point for retirees, the county has much more to offer, in part thanks to its abundant outdoor recreation, its best-in-class healthcare system, an active year-round events schedule, and the curriculum offered by Carteret Community College, which was recently ranked by SmartAsset as the 4th best community college in America. Carteret Health Care is consistently ranked among the top 100 community hospitals in the nation, and it recently became a partner with the Mayo Clinic Care Network — the only North Carolina hospital with the Mayo Clinic affiliation.

In Querry's opinion, Carteret County can not only be a great place for retirees to kick back and relax, but also to open a new, active, fun and fulfilling chapter in their lives.

"We have a mild climate, four seasons, incredible water resources, and the ability to have an active lifestyle, so retirees tend to naturally gravitate toward the communities that have the natural amenities that we offer," said Querry. "Another highlight is that we're very business-friendly, so for those retirees looking for a second iteration of their career, it can be easy to start a business or work here as well. Along with that, Carteret Community College is a wonderful asset. The college offers life enrichment opportunities through courses, activities, and continuing education. We also have a SCORE chapter here, so retired business executives can mentor other business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs."

"There's an ease to the opportunity to engage and become part of the fabric of this community," she finished. "Whatever suits your particular personality or lifestyle, we have a town or community that fits your preferences."

This article was written for our sponsor, Crystal Coast Economic Development Foundation.


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