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WMC Economic Outlook Survey: Business Leaders Remain Optimistic Despite Worsening Labor Shortage

77 percent of employers report having trouble finding workers
MADISON – State business leaders rate both the U.S. and Wisconsin economies as stronger today than six months ago but say the state’s labor shortage is getting worse, according to the latest semi-annual economic survey conducted by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state chamber of commerce.
Half of the 232 C-suite executives who completed the survey rated the Wisconsin economy as “strong,” up from 23 percent in December. Six percent said the Wisconsin economy is “very strong,” up from one percent, while 38 percent rated current conditions as “moderate,” down from 66 percent. Just three percent rated the Wisconsin economy as “weak,” down from eight percent.
Ratings for the U.S. economy also improved with 33 percent of respondents saying national conditions were “strong,” up from eight percent six months ago. Fifty-nine percent said the U.S. economy was “moderate,” down from 65 percent and just four percent rated it as “weak,” down sharply from 25 percent.
In the next six months, 76 percent said the state’s economy will see “moderate growth,” up from 65 percent in December. Seven percent expect “good growth,” up from four percent and 13 percent said the Wisconsin economy will remain flat through the end of the year, down from 29 percent.
Despite the economic optimism, 77 percent of employers report having trouble finding workers, up from 70 percent a year ago and 53 percent in the summer of 2014. Not surprisingly, 44 percent said that labor availability was the top concern facing their business, up from 30 percent six months ago. Health care costs and excessive regulations were a distant second and third at 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
“The economy can’t stay strong if labor availability is weak,” commented Kurt R. Bauer, WMC president/CEO. He said the issue should command more attention from law- and policymakers because it is already holding the state’s economy back. Bauer said that efforts to retain the state’s working age population are helping, but it is not enough. “Wisconsin needs to attract labor from other states and abroad in order to grow our economy,” he said.
Business leaders apparently agree. Seventy-seven percent support federal immigration reform, according to the survey. That is up from 59 percent who said they favored immigration reform last summer.
Other findings:

  • 59% of survey respondents plan to hire in the next six months, up 1% from the winter survey.
  • Wages are ticking up slightly. 35% of respondents say they will raise salaries between 3 and 3.5% in 2017, up from 28%.
  • “Make health care more affordable” overtook “reduce/reform regulations” as the top thing “state government could do to help your business,” followed by “reduce taxes.”
  • 78% support repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
  • The percentage of businesses that predict to be profitable in the next six months was 90%, unchanged from six months ago.
  • 86% say Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, down from 90% six months ago.
  • 81% say the U.S. is headed in the right direction, up from 60% six months ago.
  • 42% support funding transportation projects through greater government efficiency and cost control measures, while 38% support increasing the gas tax.


For more information, contact:
Nick Novak, 608.258.3400




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