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Photography by C.B. Schmelter / A couple takes in the sights from Point Park on Lookout Mountain recently. Local efforts to attract retirees cite the area's affordable cost of living, natural beauty and low tax burden.

No state income tax. No state taxes on pensions, dividends from stocks, interest on bonds or on Social Security.

For many prospective retirees from other states looking at Tennessee, those are big draws, says Zach Ledbetter, who is director of outreach and engagement for the state Department of Tourist Development.

Ledbetter, who oversees the state's retiretennessee.org initiative, says the Volunteer State generally has a low cost of living compared to the national average.

Also, property taxes at the local level are among key financial factors for people looking at relocating to Tennessee during their golden years, he says.

Leigh McClure, who heads up Hamilton County's retiree recruiting effort, says Chattanooga is "a very sought-after destination."

"People love the fact we have a low cost of living, no state income tax and housing prices are much lower than in a lot of states," she says. "We're a pretty darn desirable location."

McClure says she is amazed at people who come from high-cost-of-living, high-tax states such as New York and California where the burden is so tough.

"They look at what we have, the cost of living, affordable housing, UTC, the airport," she says.

While Florida is the No. 1 state nationally in wooing retirees, McClure believes Tennessee is stacking up better over the past 10 to 15 years.

"People still want a nice climate, but we offer a sort of alternative than being on the beach and to pack up and leave when there's a hurricane coming," she says.

According to ideal-Living.com, it's possible to save thousands of dollars a year by moving south to a state such as Tennessee, and retirees could cut their property tax payment in half or more.

A Suffolk County, Long Island, New York resident who purchased a home with a $225,000, 30-year mortgage, and lived there for 15 years with $1,500 a month in principal and interest would owe $170,000 while the home is now worth $546,000, the website says. While property taxes are over $7,000 per year and climbing, the homeowner has $376,000 in equity.

In Tennessee, the median home sale value is $181,331, ideal-Living.com says, citing USA Today. The retiree could move to the Volunteer State, purchase a home with cash and still have almost $200,000 left over, the website says. Also, taxes could be as low as $981 per year while having a reduced cost of living, the site estimates.

Ledbetter says Chattanooga has participated in the state's retiree recruitment program, which now has 19 locations since its inception.

Every conversation with retirees is different, he says.

"Some want a planned community. Some want a one-stop development," Ledbetter says. "Some want more residential living. Some still want to go to the neighborhood gym."

He says the state program gets requests from Hamilton County on a weekly basis. The state in turn reports out to its partners so local officials can follow up on leads, Ledbetter says.

Even during the coronavirus pandemic, the program still saw leads coming in, though it paused its digital marketing efforts because it wasn't pushing travel, he says.

This spring, Ledbetter says, it restarted a more normal recruiting effort, and he's expecting the state to attend in-person trade shows in the Northeast in the fall aimed at retirees.

"With the demographics of retirement, they've had availability to get the vaccine first," he says of retirees. "If they're really looking for a retirement destination, we want Tennessee to be in front of them."

McClure added that often it's not just retirees, but their children and grandchildren who decide to move, as well.

"There's big business in marketing for retirees," she says. "They don't wear on your economy a lot. They don't have school kids. They pay their bills. It's a good population to encourage to come to your state."

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