WMC Economic Outlook Survey: State Business Leaders Most Optimistic Since Great Recession

Survey finds broad support for Right to Work; labor shortage top concern

Madison – Wisconsin’s business leaders are more optimistic about the state and national economy than at any time since the end of the Great Recession, according to a semi-annual survey conducted by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state chamber of commerce.

Eighty-one percent of the 308 executives from all business sectors who completed the survey say Wisconsin’s economy will see moderate growth in the next six months, while 4.5 percent said the state will experience good growth. Twelve percent said growth will be flat and no one said the economy will decline.

That is a marked improvement from recent surveys. Last June, 71 percent predicted moderate growth versus 22 percent who said growth would be flat. A year ago, 65 percent predicted moderate growth, while 31 percent predicted it would be flat.

June 2009 was the low watermark since WMC began surveying its members on the economy. Back then just 3 percent of survey respondents predicted moderate growth for the state during the preceding six months, while 48 percent said it would be flat and 48 percent said it would decline.

The current optimism should translate into more hiring, according to the survey. The percentage of private sector executives who plan to add employees during the next six months grew to 58 percent, up from 56 percent last June and 44 percent in January 2014. In June 2009, just 13 percent said they planned to add staff compared to 41 percent who expected layoffs.

Wisconsin business executives are also feeling good about national economic trends. Seventy-four percent say the U.S. economy will see moderate growth between January and June of this year, while 5 percent say growth will be good. Just 16.5 percent said growth would be flat. In June 2014, 53 percent predicted moderate growth compared to 42 percent who said growth would be flat. A year ago, 47 percent said growth would be moderate and 44 percent said it would be flat.

Sixty-four percent of survey respondents say they are having trouble finding workers, up from 53 percent in June and 60 percent last January. That is likely why when asked “what is the top business concern facing your company” 26 percent said “labor availability,” followed by “health care costs” (20 percent) and “excessive regulation” (19 percent).

Respondents also expressed strong support for Right to Work (RTW) legislation that would allow workers the freedom to decide if they want to join a private sector union or not. Eight-one percent said they supported a RTW law in Wisconsin, 6 percent said they oppose and 11 percent were undecided.

“There is more good news in this survey than we have seen since the economic downturn,” said Kurt R. Bauer, WMC president/CEO. “But there are lingering concerns as well. The skills gap and overall labor shortage appear to be getting worse and threatens to slow future employment gains.”

Bauer also said the answers to the open-ended questions reveal a theme. When asked “what do you believe is holding back the economy and job growth” the labor shortage issue was mentioned often, along with the state’s tax, regulatory and overall business climate. “High taxes, lack of qualified workers, anti-business bureaucracy,” was one response. Another was: “High taxes do not allow us to compete with other states.”

Despite those comments, 96 percent of business executives remain convinced Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, which is unchanged from June 2014. Survey respondents also believe the state’s elected officials are business-friendly. Thirty-eight percent said officials are very pro-business, while 52 percent said officials are somewhat pro-business.

But just 3.5 percent say state regulators and other state employees are very pro-business, 33 percent say they are somewhat pro-business, but 26.6 percent believe state employees are somewhat anti-business and 3 percent say they are very anti-business.

“The results of this survey show Wisconsin’s transformation from an anti-business to a pro-business state remains a work in progress,” Bauer said. “Clearly, there is more work to be done in order for our state to achieve its full economic potential.”

The survey was conducted in late December 2014 and early January 2015.

For More Information Contact:
Kurt Bauer, WMC, 608.258.3400

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Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is the state’s chamber of commerce and leading business association representing 3,800 employers of all sizes and from every sector of the economy.