Latest chamber survey results reflect “cautious optimism” about local economy

Business owners and managers responding to a chamber survey are more upbeat about the Grand Valley economy, including their expectations for sales and hiring. But most don’t expect a recovery to begin until next year.

“It’s cautious optimism,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s not jumping up and down, oh goody the recovery is here.”

Schwenke said the latest results of the twice-a-year survey are among the most optimistic she’s seen since the chamber started polling members about the economy in 2008. The chamber received 417 responses to 1,500 e-mail invitations in the survey completed May 6.

In assessing local conditions, 21 percent of those responding to the survey characterized the economy as stable. That’s the first time the proportion has topped 20 percent since the spring 2009 survey, meaning more people believe conditions are no longer deteriorating.

Meanwhile, 32 percent of respondents said they’re more optimistic now about economic conditions than they were six months ago, the highest level recorded so far.

Consumer confidence remained the most-cited factor as likely affecting local businesses over the next six months, but rising energy prices moved into the second spot. Survey respondents also cited the perception of a weak economy, increased costs related to new fees and regulations and a lack of credit.

While 36 percent of respondents said they expect increased company sales over the next six months, 11 percent said they anticipate deceased sales and 53 percent said sales will hold steady.

Schwenke said she was most heartened by survey results that signal increased hiring. While 15 percent of respondents said they plan to reduce staffing in coming months, the net difference was positive with 19 percent planning to increase staffing. That’s the first time the proportion of respondents planning to hire more employees has exceeded the proportion of respondents planning layoffs since the surveys began.

Most respondents — 52 percent — said they plan to continue to delay capital expenditures for the next six months. But that proportion has dropped 10 percent over the past year.

While 41 percent of respondents don’t expect the economy to begin to recover until 2012, 17 percent said they think recovery already is under way. Last spring, survey participants expected recovery in late 2011. Two years ago, the prediction was mid- to late 2010.