South Mississippi Stalled When It Comes To Attracting Military Retirees

The slow economy is being blamed for the decline in the number of military retirees opting to make South Mississippi home. The director of Retired Activities at the Gulfport Seabee base said most people retire from the military in their late thirties then go looking for civilian work. He said our area has lost some of its ability to attract retirees because of their financial concerns over low wages.

Darrell Netterville was at the Seabee base on Saturday for its annual Retired Military Appreciation Day. When he got out of the Army in '87, he still wanted to enjoy living around other servicemen. Netterville said settling in a military community allows him to do that.

"We have both the Air base and the Navy base here and very good benefits," said Netterville. "Both bases and the medical staff are so very helpful to retired people."

Many of retirees out at the Appreciation Day aren't Mississippians by birth. When their military careers ended, they said warm weather and a friendly atmosphere convinced them to make it home.

Wilson Haulk is originally from Illinois, but he and his wife "decided to stay right here and enjoy the Southern Mississippi hospitality. We really enjoy it."

Base officials say more than 23,000 military retirees live from Hattiesburg to the Coast, but that number isn't growing because retirees worry about the impact coming here will have on their financial health.

Retired Activities director John Lardner said, "It's not as good as it used to be. The prices are going up but that is happening all over the country. The job opportunities have gotten better, but unfortunately the pay is not compatible with the cost of living."

Netterville agrees. "My property value doubled which made my equity quite hefty and made me look very successful in paying for my home but at the same time if I had to buy it today I couldn't afford my own house."

The hot spot for retirees setting up house now is the MidWest. Base officials say it will take employers creating better paying jobs to get more former service men and women reaching out for South Mississippi.

Retirees said one of their biggest obstacles is getting Congress to pass legislation that wouldn't cut the benefits of military widows once they reach social security age.