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More Arizona Retirees are Trying Entrepreneurship

Thursday, July 14, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rhette Baughman
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Whether out of boredom or necessity, more retirees are starting ventures

Grady Blair, 68, was a culinary teacher with a secret recipe for barbecue sauce. John Longobardo, 63, retired from Xerox Corp. and now helps companies go paperless. Real-estate agent Jeannine Bartnicki, 59, turned her needlepoint hobby into a business.

They all have one thing in common: They're entrepreneurs who started their businesses later in life - some of them past the age of retirement.

Career experts say they aren't surprised because the Great Recession took a heavy toll on workers' retirement plans, forcing many older employees to remain in the workforce longer and prompting some retirees to return to work.

Some of those older workers are opting to take control of their careers and embracing the entrepreneurial spirit instead of trying to get rehired or remaining with current employers.

"A lot of retirees just don't want to sit around," said Chet Ross, Arizona district president for SCORE, a national non-profit that helps entrepreneurs launch small businesses. "Now is the time to work on that dream that they've had for a long time."

About 20 percent of the country's workforce will be 55 or older in 2012 - up from 13 percent in 2000, according to the Arizona Mature Workforce Initiative.State-specific data on older entrepreneurs starting businesses are not available, said Nancy Hecker, of AARP in Phoenix, who assists metro Phoenix seniors with their job searches.

A June AARP report found that 81 percent of Baby Boomers planned to keep working at least part time past retirement.

And although Arizona's 2010 unemployment rate averaged 10.4 percent, it was 8 percent for those 65 and older and 7 percent for those 55 to 63, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"They have so much drive that they can't sit still," said David Drennon, director of marketing and business development for the Arizona Small Business Association in Phoenix. "As one of them told me, 'You can only golf for so many days.' "

'Tired of being retired'

In the early 2000s, when Grady Blair was still a culinary teacher, he tried to replicate a Jackson, Tenn., vendor's recipe he remembered from his childhood. His students, then his test market, urged him to start selling the sauce. After retiring and dabbling in the restaurant business, he launched Tempe-based Grady's Premium BBQ Sauce, which he sells at metro Phoenix grocery stores.

"I got tired of being retired," said Blair, of Phoenix, who said he tried retiring three times.

Now, with the help of his wife, Carolyn, their business earns about $7,000 annually, which he pours into his retirement fund.

Every dollar counts, especially with the recession hitting senior citizens' 401(k)s and retirement plans hard, Ross said.

Thirty percent of Baby Boomers said they will face economic hardship during retirement, according to a recent AARP survey.

"They don't know what they're going to retire on," Hecker said. "It's a harsh reality. They've had to use everything that they had to set aside for retirement to pay the bills."

Facing lagging real-estate sales, Jeannine Bartnicki said her needlepoint store offered her an opportunity to work on a hobby she has enjoyed since she was a teen.

Burned out by a full-time corporate job, Bartnicki's friend Lisa Kessler, 40, approached her in October about opening a needlepoint store. Now, they're co-partners at BeStitched Needlepoint in Scottsdale which opened in January. Together, they offer needlepoint classes and sell stitching products and supplies.

"I figured that people probably have about four or five careers in their life," Bartnicki said. "There's never an age where you should say, 'I'm this age, so I can't do anything else.' "

No room to fail

When John Longobardo was introduced to retired marketing executive John Principale, 61, they decided they could put their backgrounds to good use and help companies go paperless by launching Express Digital Solutions, a data-storage company.

Like entrepreneurs of any age, older workers face risks when starting a company. But they have more at stake than younger entrepreneurs because they have less time to start over and rebuild their retirement nest eggs should their ventures fail, said Gary Naumann, director of Arizona State University's Spirit of Enterprise Center at the W.P. Carey School of Business.

But Naumann said older workers often have the edge on younger entrepreneurs because they're more fiscally conservative, have decades of work experience and feel that failure is not an option because they're starting their ventures later in life.

"(They are a) little more careful about what they jump into," Naumann said.

Longobardo said there have been months-long periods in which he and his partner have eschewed a paycheck to keep their business going.

"We have no room for failure," Longobardo said. "We self-funded our launch."

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