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Boomers gather in SLO

By   /   Friday, June 13th, 2008  /   Comments Off on Boomers gather in SLO

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They have hefty 401(k) plans. They have appreciated homes they’re ready to sell. And they have cash to spend. Lots and lots of cash.

The Tri-Counties are a natural retirement spot for baby boomers, and their spending habits could float the area while the rest of the country sinks economically. To bridge the gap between the region’s baby boomers and area businesses, San Luis Obispo was hosted its first Baby Boomer Expo, which was started by the husband-and-wife team of Kevin Beauchamp and Carolayne Holley.

On June 7 and 8, the San Luis Obispo residents brought 125 exhibitors and wineries to the Alex Madonna Expo Center. Nearly 2,500 baby boomers strolled through during the weekend to check out the latest in wealth management, style and beauty, travel, recreation, technology and home and family offerings.

Beauchamp said he plans to start franchises of the expo in San Jose and Ventura next year. He eventually intends to expand the expo east across the United States. But San Luis Obispo, with its thousands of baby boomers and comfortable weather, was a natural spot to launch it.

“You start in your own backyard first,” Beauchamp said. “We know the venues here, we’ve been involved in the business communities here, and it’s also a center for baby boomers.”

He said a couple of other expo organizers have held smaller baby boomer expos in California and North Carolina, but believes his has been the largest and seems to have the most potential for national growth.

Beauchamp and Holley have run the Central Coast Bride shows for the past six years and came up with the baby-boomer idea last fall when Holley was at an international conference.

“My wife is a member of some national and international expo associations that produce shows, and in her travels there, she heard of someone in Canada doing a similar concept,” Beauchamp said.

With 76 million baby boomers worldwide, an expo catering to that demographic is a smart idea, said Dan Hamilton, director of economics for the University of California, Santa Barbara, Economic Forecast Project.

“If you can figure out what they want and provide it, then you’re going to get the sales,” Hamilton said. He added that baby boomers moving to the Central Coast bring tremendous spending power with them.

“They impact the wealth of the area, because sometimes they retire here and to some extent they don’t retire here unless they have wealth because housing isn’t cheap,” he said. And because they have wealth, Hamilton said, they won’t be as reliant on government services.

“They’ve got their money in diversified 401(k) plans or in bonds or in just cash and the economy can dip as far as it needs to and they’re still set,” Beauchamp said, “which is why the businesses need to target the baby boomers.”

Among exhibitors at the expo were representatives from Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, an RV center, golf course, day spas, Honda, Harley-Davidson and several green building companies. The next SLO Baby Boomer Expo is already scheduled for Nov. 1 and 2.

Bill Watkins, executive director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, said today’s retirees are active and will pay for something that keeps them busy.

“It’ll drive a sort of service-entertainment economy, very compatible with tourism,” Watkins said.

For a generation of people who have affected the economy throughout every phase of their lives, baby boomers have the potential to subtly transform the tri-county economy. And, Watkins said, they could change the political landscape, too.

“They’re going to get in and they’re going to complain to the city councils about the increase in traffic,” among other things, Watkins said. “These are going to be people with time and money.”

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