News Column

Many Small Businesses in Illinois Less Optimistic

Oct. 12, 2012

Karina Gonzalez, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

Small business owners have scaled back their expectations for sales and hiring ahead of next month's presidential election, according to a recent PNC Bank survey.

The most recent in the series of biannual surveys, which began in 2003, shows that one in four small business owners plans to hire in the next six months. Less than half of those surveyed expect their sales to rise and one out of every two business owners say they are currently "worse off" compared to 2007.

"What we're seeing in Central Illinois, in Champaign, Bloomington and Peoria is a small fluctuation in a steady state of unemployment, which further reinforces that small business owners are holding hiring plans steady," said PNC economist Kurt Rankin, who is based in Pennsylvania.

At The Great Display Company in Bloomington, however, next month's election has not derailed its expansion plans.

"We're moving full speed ahead," said co-owner Jacob Duquenne, as he stood inside the company's lobby. Earlier this year, the company moved to a bigger facility in Bloomington to meet rising demand.

Co-owner Aaron Hambleton has seen growth over the last couple years because Great Display offers a niche service that's difficult to acquire in Central Illinois. The company is known for advertising display wraps that adhere to the sides of buildings and cars.

"We plan on hiring for more sales positions in the next six months -- at least a few," said Hambleton. "We're looking to have dedicated sales (representatives) in the Peoria area."

But Hambleton and Duquenne's expected growth is unusual, particularly in the fall, when optimism tends to retreat.

"From the national level, what is most significant is that we've repeated for the third year in a row a pull-back in optimism" in the fall, said Rankin.

This year, small business owners are expressing uncertainty regarding the future of the country.

"When the candidates' proposals are as dramatic as they are, it would be considered common (for optimism to retreat)," said Rankin. "Small businesses are more sensitive to tax increases: the affordable (health) care act."

Still, at Mother Murphy's, a music store in uptown Normal, owner Mike Williams said he's optimistic about the final quarter of the year. The store normally cuts back its evening hours as foot traffic slows, said Williams, who operates the store with his wife, Becky.

"If the trend continues; business has been substantial, then I don't need to cut those hours back," said Williams. "To me that's a good indicator. August and September were a little better than last year."

Source: (c)2012 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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