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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jul. 28, 201412:00 PM EST

Consumers optimistic about economy, but not finances


Northeast Florida consumers are optimistic, but worry about health care costs, having enough money in savings and saving for retirement, according to a survey by Chase Bank and JAXUSA Partnership.

Survey results were released Friday at the Regional Economic Development Forum at the University of North Florida Herbert University Center.

Michael Butler, market leader of JPMorgan Chase in Northeast Florida, said the survey reflects a “great business environment in Northeast Florida.”

“We think it’s a market with great prospects,” he said. “And we think there are plenty of opportunities to improve.”

The 2014 Chase-JAXUSA Partnership Pulse of the Consumer Survey found that two-thirds of Northeast Floridians are optimistic that the local economy and job market are stable or improving.

The survey found 66 percent say the economy is stable or improving and 63 percent say the job market is steady or good.

Just over half say the same about the national economy and job market.

Northeast Floridians like where they live, too, according to the survey, which found that 86 percent of respondents have a favorable opinion of living in the Jacksonville metro area. They particularly like the climate and weather, quality of life, cost of living and the economy/jobs.

More than half think buying a home in their community is a good or excellent investment.

Residents chose to live in Northeast Florida for several reasons. The top was job-related (33 percent), followed by “born and raised,” at 27 percent. The next three reasons were moving to retire in the area, family in the area and a military assignment.

While just 7 percent of those surveyed said they live in the area because of a current military assignment, 82 percent of respondents say military installations and personnel have a positive impact on their local economy.

A panel discussion comprised Butler; Michelle Braun, president and CEO of United Way of Northeast Florida; and Jerry Mallot, president of the JAXUSA Partnership, the economic development division of the JAX Chamber. First Coast Connect host Melissa Ross was the moderator.

While residents are optimistic, they also have concerns.

Asked about business growth, 45 percent of Northeast Florida survey respondents said taxes and fees are the most important factors influencing the growth of business in the area. Other concerns were health care costs, housing costs and transportation costs.

And 72 percent said they worry about health care costs and 72 percent also worry about having enough money in savings, with 65 percent worried about saving for retirement.

Yet, some consumers still plan to spend money.

More than half expect to buy a car in the next five years and almost a third are planning to take a dream vacation. Respondents also said they are spending more money on food and groceries (44 percent) and gas (27 percent) this year compared to last year.

Mallot said that the percentages of respondents who say they intend to make a major purchase reflected some optimism. “They are very hopeful,” he said.

Braun raised concerns about the higher costs and the worries about savings. “Can I be unoptimistic?” she said, noting that lower-income people who use United Way services aren’t in the same brackets as higher-income residents who can afford to buy cars and homes.

The survey was an online poll of 419 adults in the seven-county region of Northeast Florida, comprising Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties. It took place May 27-June 6.

In addition to the Northeast Florida area sample, an online poll was conducted of a randomly selected representative sample of 1,036 adults nationwide during the same timeframe.

The margin of error for the Northeast Florida survey is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points and plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the national survey.

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