Chamber survey results reflect more upbeat outlook

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Diane Schwenke
Diane Schwenke, GJ Chamber

The latest results of a twice-annual survey of Grand Valley business owners and managers reflect a more positive outlook for the economy, hiring and capital expenditures.

“This is the most upbeat I’ve seen people,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

The results of the spring 2012 survey are the most optimistic in the four years the chamber has polled members, Schwenke said. The results also correspond to what Schwenke said members tell her about improving conditions. “The two really do play well together.”

Of the 304 chamber members responding to the spring survey, 34 percent said they’re more optimistic now about economic conditions than they were six months ago — a 10-point jump from the fall 2011 survey.

Moreover, 26 percent of respondents said they viewed the local economy as stable, up three points from the fall 2011 survey and five points from the spring 2011 survey.

The Grand Valley experienced the full effects of the economic downturn later than other areas of the United States and Colorado and has lagged behind in experiencing recovery, Schwenke said. “We were the last in and we’re kind of the last out.” But the latest survey results reflect the view the recession has bottomed out in the Grand Valley.

While 42 percent of respondents to the latest survey expect the Grand Valley economy to significantly recover in 2013, 20 percent believe the recovery already is under way.

Meanwhile, 23 percent of respondents said they consider the United States economy stable — more than double the 11 percent who held that view in the fall 2011 survey, but the identical proportion in the spring 2011 survey.

As for hiring, 22 percent of those responding to the latest survey expect to increase staffing in coming months, while 11 percent anticipate layoffs. The 11 percent difference represents a widening margin that reflects improving labor conditions, Schwenke said. By comparison, 17 percent of those responding to the fall 2011 survey planned to increase hiring and 14 percent expected layoffs, a 3 percent difference.

Some businesses — those in the energy and construction sectors in particular — have increased staffing for operations outside the area, Schwenke said. The trend also reflects additional hiring of temporary workers. Nonetheless, businesses are hiring more employers, she said.

For the first time in the four-year history of the survey, the proportion of chamber members planning to delay capital expenditures for the next six months because of economic conditions fell below 50 percent — to 46 percent.

The outlook for increased sales also improved in the latest survey with 37 percent of respondents expecting more sales over the next six months. That’s up three points from the fall 2011 survey and a point from the spring 2011 survey.

Despite the more optimistic outlook reflected in the survey results overall, uncertainty persists among business owners and managers over the upcoming election in the United States as well as the potential for an economic downturn elsewhere in the world, Schwenke said.

Business owners and managers participating in the latest survey most often cited consumer confidence as the factor that will most affect local business during the next six months. They also cited perceptions of a weak economy and energy prices.