By 2025, Howard County is expected to have close to 105,000 residents aged 55 and older, compared to 95,290 in 2020. By 2030, one in five Howard County residents will be 65 or older. How will it benefit your business to become more age-friendly?
- What is Age-Friendly Howard County?
It is a county-wide initiative to create a livable community where everyone feels safe, welcomed and engaged as they grow up and grow older. Howard County earned its designation as an AARP Age-Friendly Community in December 2019. That meant we had to also create an Age-Friendly Action Plan on how to make the County a better, safer, healthier, and happier place to live, work and play.
- Is there a difference between an Age-Friendly Community and a Livable Community?
Age-friendly and livable are synonymous terms. A large group of volunteers worked over 18 months to develop an extensive action plan to bring the entire community closer to being more livable, more age-friendly, by addressing elements like affordable and appropriate housing and transportation options; opportunities for work, civic and social engagement; and programs and services that serve the needs and interests of everyone. Research shows by 2030, older adults ages 55 and up will account for more than 30% of Howard County’s population. What does that mean for the local economy?
Older adults spend money and contribute to the tax base, so when they will make up one-third of our population, it will create incredible socio-economic opportunities. According to the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, older adults have the most disposable income of any demographic and quite often, are still employers and/or in the workforce. They are often family care givers and support working parents. They also shape the market and innovation and drive consumptive growth. The AARP report, “The Livability Economy: People, Places and Prosperity” finds that as people and businesses make livable communities their home, these places become strong economic centers.
- What steps can a business take today to embrace the growing older adult community?
The Howard County Age-Friendly Action Plan offers a wealth of resources to increase individual and business awareness of what age-friendly and livability looks like. Find the Action Plan at www.howardcountymd.gov/age-friendly. With a focus on eight domains of livability from the physical environment to the social environment, there are opportunities to make a difference in many aspects of our community.
The action item of greatest interest initially to businesses may be the Age-Friendly Business Certification Program which addresses considerations for customer service, marketing, design, accessibility, and products that meet the needs of older adults. More information about the certification program will be available on the website www.howardcountymd.gov/agefriendly as work group members finalize this exciting new program.
- How can businesses become more Age-Friendly?
We recommend what the Milken Institute suggests: develop a longevity strategy that considers this unprecedented age shift; respond to the growing market opportunity with innovative, age-friendly products and services; develop policies to accommodate a changing workforce; and capitalize on the experiences of older workers and the benefits of intergenerational teams.
At a very grassroots level, businesses can become part of one of the Age-Friendly Howard County implementation work groups for the Action Plan. Business leaders, merchants and frontline personnel are needed to be part of the growing number of individuals who are shaping the future of Howard County. The Action Plan addresses elements that make a difference in how we communicate and work with each other now and in the future. Anyone can join a work group by signing up at www.howardcountymd.gov/agefriendly.
- What are business-friendly, age-friendly features?
There are many things a business or any organization can implement to be more age-friendly, or basically, user-friendly. Here are a few features:
- Easy-to-open entry doors.
- Enough space for people to comfortably navigate and move within a shop, eatery or office.
- Accessible restrooms.
- Clear, visible and legible signage and symbols (arrows, rest rooms signs, etc.), as well as easy-to-read print and web materials with 12-point or larger fonts and good contrast.
- A suitable noise level for hearing and speaking.
- Proper lighting – neither too dim nor too bright.
- A sitting area for waiting customers.
- Easily identifiable staff who are respectful, helpful and patient.
- How can Howard County residents and businesses get involved with the Age-Friendly Howard County initiative?
It is easy to be part of this initiative! Do you enjoy public speaking or motivating others? Do you enjoy planning and participating in community events? Do you have a passion for developing policy and making change happen? Or other talents that could make the County more livable? Then sign up for an implementation workgroup. Volunteers can determine the amount of time they want to commit to areas such the business certification program; or working on the issues of housing, health, transportation, or work and civic engagement. Contact me with your questions at [email protected] or sign up for a work group at www.howardcountymd.gov/agefriendly.
Terri M. Hansen, MPA is Manager, Age-Friendly Howard County, Office on Aging & Independence, Department of Community Resources & Services.