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Clearwater conference explores what baby boomers will need as they begin to retire

Florida baby boomers, all 4.7 million of them, go under the microscope again once today in a daylong conference dissecting their financial fears, job frustrations, retirement opportunities and lifestyle options.

The annual conference, this one held at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall, is Florida's second. It's dedicated to better understanding Florida's next wave of active retirees, and how new business opportunities may cater to their changing needs as they reinvent themselves in the last third of their lives.

This year's conference comes with fresh survey insights about what makes boomers — that includes me, smack dab in the middle of the generation, ages 45 to 64 — tick. Those survey results will be outlined in a morning session by Lorin Drake, vice president at the Schwartz Consulting Partners, a Tampa market research firm. But Drake, along with conference organizers and marketing entrepreneurs Michelle Bauer of Common Language in St. Petersburg and Colleen Chappell of ChappellRoberts in Ybor City, stopped by the Times this week with an early peek at the numbers.

In the past five years, which includes all of the latest recession, nearly four in 10 Florida households led by baby boomers have had someone lose a job. Over the same period, a third of boomer households have had someone stay in a hospital. And nearly one in six boomer households has had a home whose market value has dipped below its mortgage. (That last one is pretty good given how many Florida homeowners overall are underwater.)

The poll of 444 Florida boomers also finds that just under half agree or strongly agree that they plan to work through retirement. Only 44 percent agree or strongly agree that "Florida will bounce back" — presumably from the statewide 12.2 percent and Tampa Bay's 13.1 percent unemployment rates, and from a battered housing market still in search of a solid bottom.

Overall, 48 percent of boomers surveyed report either "fair" or "poor" personal finances thanks to a job loss or taking a job that pays less, a severe stock market hit to 401(k) retirement plans or, most likely, a combination of these events.

On the brighter side, the survey finds that 74 percent of boomers say they plan to stay in Florida over the next 10 years.

"That seems to be the big takeaway," Drake says. "Many boomers here have taken a big hit, but they still love Florida."

You have to wonder if more than a few boomers are staying right where they are, not only out of love but because they can't sell their homes at a decent price.

The survey also notes some buying habits, with 72 percent of Florida boomers buying vitamins, but just 11 percent going to a gym.

One conference speaker today is Roger Chiocchi, whose book Baby Boomer Bust: How the Generation of Promise Became the Generation of Panic explores how so many boomers are financially unprepared to retire. He includes an entire chapter dedicated to the virtues of declaring bankruptcy.

Another finding touches on the trend of boomers becoming "innkeepers" in their own homes. The survey shows 18 percent of Florida boomers say that they have an "adult child" and 6 percent a "parent or in-law" living in the same household.

That, Bauer and Chappell point out, is one good example of many emerging opportunities for businesses to cater to such boomers with services ranging from food preparation and house cleaning to affordable hotels (for boomer mom to get away for a day or two) and continuing-education colleges.

Looks like boomers are going to need a lot of help.

Robert "Boomer" Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Clearwater conference explores what baby boomers will need as they begin to retire 04/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 8:50pm]
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