Economic Outlook Survey: Wisconsin Business Leaders Optimistic About U.S. Economy, Trump Presidency

Survey predicts uptick in hiring, profitability during first half of 2017

MADISON – Wisconsin business leaders begin 2017 very optimistic about both the direction of the U.S. economy and what a Donald Trump presidency means for the business climate, according to a survey conducted in November and December by Wisconsin’s largest business association.

Sixty percent of the 270 Wisconsin business leaders surveyed by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) say the U.S. economy is heading in the right direction, a sharp reversal from just six months ago when 84 percent said the U.S. economy was headed in the wrong direction. Not coincidentally, 78 percent of respondents said they were either optimistic (54%) or very optimistic (24%) about what a Trump presidency means for business.

The business community’s optimism also extends to the state level, where 90 percent say Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, up from 80 percent in June and 79 percent a year ago.

A majority (66%) of survey respondents rate the Wisconsin economy as “moderate,” 23 percent say it is “strong,” and just 1.4 percent say it is “very strong.” Eight percent rated the Wisconsin economy as “weak” or “very weak.” Sixty-five percent predict the Wisconsin economy will experience “moderate” growth during the next six months, up from 49 percent in the summer. Just 29 percent say the state’s economy will be “flat,” down from 49 percent.

The U.S. economy received lower ratings than Wisconsin, but better than six months ago. For example, last summer, 46 percent of respondents called the U.S. economy “weak” or “very weak.” That number dropped to 26 percent, while the number of businesspeople rating the national economy as “moderate” increased from 45 percent six months ago to 65 percent today. Just 7.7 percent of respondents rate the U.S. economy as “strong” and no one rated it as “very strong.”

Sixty-five percent said the U.S. economy will experience “moderate” growth during the first six months of the year, while five percent predict the economy will see “good” growth.

Eighty-four percent say their business was profitable in the last half of 2016 and 90 percent say they will be profitable during the first six months of 2017, up from 87 percent in summer.

Business leaders predict more hiring during the first six months of 2017. Fifty-eight percent plan to add staff, the highest number since January 2015. Six months ago, 42 percent of survey respondents planned to add employees.

Fifty-nine percent of CEOs who completed the WMC economic survey say the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had a negative impact on their employees, while nearly the same percentage (60%) blame ACA for rising health care costs.

Ninety-two percent of those surveys said they offer health care benefits to their employees and 70 percent said their costs will increase in 2017. Forty-four percent said their costs will rise between one and 10 percent, while 27 percent projected a between 11 and 20 percent increase.

Sixty-four percent said ACA has forced changes to the plan they offer. Seventy percent have increased deductibles, 50 percent have increased co-pays and 46 percent have increased co-insurance.

Continuing recent trends, labor availability is the top public policy concern facing Wisconsin, according to the survey, followed by rising health care costs and excessive regulations. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said the one thing state government could do to improve Wisconsin’s business climate is reduce regulations, 21 percent said reduce taxes and 19 percent said make health care more affordable.

When asked in an open-ended section of the survey, “what is the most important thing President-Elect Trump should do in his first 100 days in office to grow the U.S. economy?”, reduce regulations, reform the Affordable Care Act, lower taxes and tap domestic energy were the most frequent responses.

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Founded in 1911, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) is the combined state chamber of commerce, manufacturers’ association and safety council. WMC represents 3,800 employers of all sizes and from every sector of the economy.

For more information, contact:
Nick Novak, 608.258.3400