Tricia Esser – Lansner: Be Thankful For These Trends

The Orange County Register

November 26, 2014

It’s the day to give thanks – for family, friends, food … and in this forum, fortunes.

I asked some folks in the local business community about what economic and industry trends they were thankful for – not a tough question in a year when most economic indicators performed as well as they have since the Great Recession.

Here’s a sampler of economic patterns that are making execs smile this Thanksgiving:

Strong holiday spending: Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi thinks 2014 should be the best holiday shopping season since the recession started. “Although wage growth has been anemic, higher level of employment means higher level of income and spending. Also, homeowners who refinanced mortgages over the past couple of years have more disposable income,” he says. “Positive wealth effect emanating from higher equity market and home prices improved consumer sentiment. And lower gas prices will work like a tax cut – leaving consumers with more money to spend.”

More meetings: Jay Burress, CEO of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, is thankful for more meetings, and not just because he sells meeting space for a living. “We are grateful this massive economic generator is thriving and growing,” Burress says. “Meetings and tourism matter today and will well into the future. Business travel helps companies obtain new customers and retain existing ones. In-person meetings double the likelihood of ‘prospect conversion.’”

Internet choice: John Brynjolffson, founder of the Armored Wolf hedge fund from Irvine, is thankful for online information’s “long tail” – the greater range of product variety offered consumers today. While many folks have nostalgic feelings about businesses disrupted by the Internet, Brynjolffson says, “Statisticians confirm that the range and breadth of books available on Amazon, and other products available to consumers, now dwarf that of the 1980s. The long tail transcends books. In the past, the top five hand soaps, the top 50 vacation destinations or the top five political commentators dominated. Today, through the wonders of technological search and distribution, we have the long tail.”

Foodies: Chef Cathy Pavlos of Provenance in Newport Beach and Lucca in Irvine is thankful for the growing interest in food. TV networks like Food Network and other media outlets “have given attention to the chef and gotten folks excited about the quality of their food.” Her newer Provenance eatery grows some of its food nearby and has an open kitchen. “People appreciate seeing where their food comes from, how it is handled and prepared,” says Pavlos. She notes Provenance has “a large window when you walk in that peeks on the pastry area and then one facing the rest of the kitchen, so there is transparency.”

Lighter beers: Alex Puchner, the beer expert at the BJs restaurant chain from Huntington Beach, is thankful for growing popularity of low-alcohol, small-batch-brewed beers. “After several years of increasingly extreme beers from craft brewers trying to push the boundaries of hop bitterness and alcohol content, this year we saw the pendulum swing the other direction,” Puchner says. “This was the year of session IPA, a new craft beer style defined by pronounced hop character and low alcohol content. Just look at Europe, where session beers have been the norm for hundreds of years. I predict that American craft brewers will embrace styles like Bohemian pilsner and English bitter in 2015.”

China’s American intrigue: Burress of the Visitor & Convention Bureau is also thankful for growing Chinese interest in various slices of the U.S. market and culture. In May, Orange County hosted “Perfect China” with 7,000 Chinese people attending – the largest group meeting from China in the United States. California was the top destination of U.S.-bound Chinese tourists in 2013. “China is a critical emerging travel market, and Anaheim and Orange County, the state of California and the U.S. are only beginning to tap the full economic potential of attracting visitors from that country,” Burress says.

Generational alignment: Tricia Esser, CEO at KTGY architects from Irvine, is thankful that older baby boomers are looking at the same housing styles and neighborhoods as young, hip millennials – a trend that may give added momentum to urban renewal efforts. Boomers, Esser says, want to live “where they can walk to shops, be transit-close, in shopping and entertainment districts. Boomers are proving that they’ll buy single-level-living homes in a vertical environment – i.e., high-rise housing – in supposedly young people’s neighborhoods. We should be thankful that developers and cities are now listening to these trends. … Building near employment, transit, shopping and entertainment amenities also helps keep more cars off our busy roadways and continues the revitalization of our urban areas.”

Changing Boomer tastes: Bill Passo, CEO of real estate investor Passco Companies LLC, is thankful that the new generation of empty-nesters is more likely to consider rentals vs. downsizing into smaller ownership housing. “One aspect that is drawing baby boomers to rent is the luxury and amenity-rich options,” Passo says. “Renters can find multifamily properties that are complete with on-site concierge services, movie theaters, business centers, activities, dog parks and dry cleaning. In addition, renting saves baby boomers from having to deal with the issues often associated with owning a home.”

Extra giving: Larry Webb, CEO of builder New Home Co. from Newport Beach, is thankful for the economic recovery because it gives industries the financial flexibility to help. His company’s recent annual golf tournament raised $275,000 for Interval House, a charity that aids victims of domestic violence. “The homebuilding industry is back on its feet, and builders are rallying to give back to the community,” Webb says.

Good news from bad news: Margaret Bayston, executive director of the Laura’s House charity, sees benefit from the extensive media coverage of high-profile domestic violence cases. Her Ladera Ranch-based group aids victims of this abuse. Bayston says the media coverage boosted awareness of this problem and “brought Laura’s House to the forefront of many conversations and is elevating the nonprofit’s important programs and services. The hopeful result is that more women will reach out for help – now, and in the future.”

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