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Recession-proof? We ask our readers how they're doing.


We ask our readers how they're doing.

It's official. The local economy is in recession -- and has been since last summer. That's the word from Mike Vizvary, the former business editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune who's preparing to launch Land and Law, a publication that will cover commercial real estate and court systems in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties.

Vizvary talked to state economist Mark Malo, who cited these key Sarasota indicators: Jobs grew by only four percent from January of 1990 to 1991. Goods-producing businesses lost 800 jobs in 1990 -- especially bad, says Vizvary, because "one manufacturing job creates several jobs in the service sector." Six hundred of those lost jobs were in construction. Housing starts, another crucial indicator, fell from 221 in December 1989 to 133 in December 1990 -- a drop of 40 percent. The total value of permitted construction plunged by 56.9 percent -- from $42.7 million to $18.4 million. Retailers had a disappointing Christmas and our bedrock industry, tourism, is struggling through a "lackluster" year.

Nonetheless, says Vizvary, we haven't seen anything like the massive layoffs and depressed real estate market in some other areas of the country, and the high level of affluence and retirement income here protect many Sarasotans from feeling the pinch.

To see more vividly how the recession is -- or isn't -- affecting the lives of our readers, we selected about 75 names at random from our subscriber list and called to ask them some pointed personal questions. In all, we managed to reach and to interview 26 subscribers. The results are by no means scientific, but we think they're interesting. Our sample included retired couples, widows, single mothers, entrepreneurs, developers, real estate and corporate professionals.

Our first question: How worried are you about the economy? The overwhelming answer: Not very. Only seven expressed any concern, and three of those were mainly worried about their working-age children. Still, some who said they personally were confident described a general climate of unease. A member of several local cultural boards said fund-raising was lagging. One major donor had just decided to switch his $50,000-plus annual contribution from culture to human services because of the rising level of need in town.

Then we got more personal: Has the slowdown affected your income or investments? Seven said it had. Several retired readers were receiving "slightly" less return on their investments. One unlucky couple had sold their stock holdings -- before the bull market -- to make a major investment in a Northeast residential development that's dead in the water and gobbling up more money every month. A manufacturer of expensive apparel was finding that upper income women around the country were wearing last year's gowns, and the owners of an executive search firm said business was down about 10 percent. A young working wife said her hours had been cut and her husband was looking for a second job.

But much more typical of our sampling were the people who said their reserves and investments were "sheltering" them from such problems. Not all of those weathering the storm were retired. A yacht charter broker declared business was "booming" and a plumbing supplier said that after a slight slump, sales to new home builders had recovered nicely. A developer and several real estate professionals conceded that the local market, with the exception of waterfront, was flat, but they added that compared to many other areas, "we're doing great."

Several respondents said they were being more cautious in their personal spending, delaying purchases such as boats, home renovation projects and solar heat for the pool. But they were the exception. Indeed, a number pointed out that for those with money, this was the perfect time to buy. "I walked into Burdines and talked them into giving me last month's sale price on ceiling fans," said a Longboat Key resident. "We've just made a major purchase of art because we could negotiate with the artist, and we're seriously considering moving up a size in our boat," said a woman executive.

All but three readers told us they're eating out as frequently or even more often than before -- some as much as seven times a week. Except for a canceled trip to Europe (blame the Mideast war) our respondents were charging ahead with plans for three or more vacations this year. Trips scheduled included a month-long tour of Australia, a three-month stretch RV-ing, and short hops all over the country to visit kids and grandchildren.

Some readers were feeling the effects of the real estate slowdown. Worst off were the two families trying to sell homes up North. One slashed the asking price of a New Jersey property by 25 percent and still had no takers. The other home was in Greenwich, Conn. "The town is full of young yuppies who've lost their jobs and put their houses on the market," said the seller. In Sarasota, several readers had postponed selling or had adjusted their asking price downward. The flip side, again, was that buyers were finding "lots of good buys" -- and one lucky fellow crowed he'd just sold for "top dollar" and bought a home for 12 percent less than the listing price.

Although most of those we interviewed were financially secure, they pointed out that not all Sarasotans are so fortunate. Indeed, more than one expressed concern about the "great disparity" between the town's wealthy and its service workers. "They don't have a prayer of getting out from under in today's economy," said one. What bothered our readers most about the local economy? The school budget cuts, which they considered "a disgrace" to Florida and "everybody's future."

Suggestions for how we could manage better? A former senator who just moved here said having dual county and city services was "a luxury taxpayers could no longer afford." Not surprisingly, many retired readers urged a return to frugality and an end to debt. But as publishers concerned about the general decline in ad sales, we applauded most the entrepreneur who declared, "Businesses here should be advertising more, not cutting back. When buyers are hesitant, you have to do a better selling job."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:survey of Sarasota, Florida residents
Author:Daniel, Pam
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Article Type:editorial
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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