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BUSINESS PULSE : ORANGE COUNTY ISSUES & ATTITUDES : The Consumers : Optimism for County Tempered by Concern for U.S.

May 12, 1988|MARY ANN GALANTE | Times Staff Writer

The national economy may look cloudy to local consumers, but they see sunny times ahead for Orange County.

Most of the 25 Orange County residents interviewed at random by The Times believe that the county's affluence and population growth will ensure that the local economy will outpace the rest of the country for at least the next year.

After all, "we've got good weather, lots of recreational activities and the ocean right here," noted Stephen Sampson, 32, a field-service representative from Huntington Beach. "It's a desirable area to live, and many businesses here are already strong."

With Orange County's affluence, Sampson said, "I can't see any reason for it to change."

But consumers have some serious concerns as they assess the national outlook.

"I think it's going to be bad times for the little person--but not the big guys," said Judy Kinsworthy, 44, a schoolteacher who lives in Garden Grove.

For one thing, clothing prices and the cost of living are rising. "Every time you pick up the paper something else is going up," Kinsworthy noted. "And even the new tax law didn't seem to help the little guy."

While county consumers did not participate in The Times' executive outlook survey, results from a March public opinion poll showed that consumer confidence had declined over the preceding 18 months.

In that survey of 600 local residents, 67% of the respondents said they believed it was a good time to make major purchases such as a new car or home appliance, down from 83% in September, 1986.

At the same time, 62% said they believed they were doing better financially than a year earlier. And 56% said they believed that their financial condition would improve in the coming year.

A big factor in how the national economy fares over the next several years, according to many residents contacted this month, will be the November presidential election.

"If the Republican party gets (George) Bush in, it will probably result in some economic growth in the United States," said Dennis Pangelinan, 41, a Yorba Linda resident and a manager at McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Torrance.

A counter-argument was offered by Jean Morse, a 36-year-old mother in Brea. "People say if the Democrats get in, it will ruin the economy, but I think the Republicans are ruining it already," Morse said.

"And let's face it. Nobody is going to lower taxes enough to make much of a difference."

On the local front, residents have something to brag about. They cite trade with Asia and Orange County's fundamental attractiveness as big reasons why the economic outlook is favorable.

The United States "has a tremendous love affair with Far East countries. And we're sitting in the center of it," said Ronald Borek, 33, an executive search consultant from Yorba Linda.

"And with the (value of) the dollar dropping, people are bringing their manufacturing back onshore," Borek continued. "But even if the manufacturing arm doesn't hold up, our service arm--including the import-export houses and financial institutions--will hold up because of Asia."

"We're growing socially and economically," added Kinsworthy, the teacher. "I've lived here more than 30 years and Orange County always seems to grow and prosper. There aren't as many problems here as in other counties."

Except, of course, for the county's first-time home buyers.

According to the U.S. League of Savings Institutions, Orange County is the most expensive housing market in the nation. And most of the consumers contacted by The Times mentioned some way in which the spiraling cost of housing in Orange County is affecting their plans.

For some, it means they may have to move from the area if they are ever to purchase that first home.

For the past year or so, Denise Granite, 32, and her husband, Dan, 31, have been interested in buying a home because interest rates have dropped. But the same houses the Costa Mesa couple looked at last year have since jumped $20,000 to $30,000 in price.

"We've seriously thought of moving out of Orange County to the San Diego area," Denise said.

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