News Column

Poll Shows Small-business Owners Cautious About Investing

April 24, 2013
Small-business Owners

Many Wisconsin small-business owners think the U.S. economy is in a recovery, but a lot remain too uncertain about the outlook to invest more in their companies, a survey by U.S. Bank shows.

When asked about the current state of the economy, 47% of Wisconsin small-business owners in the bank's poll responded that it is in a recovery. Thirty-nine percent said it is still in a recession, and 14% were unsure. None thought the economy is in an expansion.

Nationally, the poll, which included 3,210 small-business owners in U.S. Bank's 25-state market -- including 210 business owners in Wisconsin -- found that 45% felt the economy is in a recovery and 43% thought it is in a recession. The small businesses were companies with $10 million or less in annual revenue.

According to the survey, small-business owners in Wisconsin and across the country are hesitant to make significant investments in their business. Both regionally and nationally, U.S. Bank said, about two-thirds of owners responded that they were unlikely to make a capital expenditure in the next 12 months.

"The word everyone uses in the survey and even when you talk to them is uncertainty," Mike Ward, Milwaukee small-business manager for U.S. Bank, said Tuesday. "The reality is uncertainty means different things to different people. It depends a lot on the industry they're in. If you're in an industry where the Internet is changing the way you do business from maybe a more traditional model, that maybe creates uncertainty. If you're facing a large new regulation or expenses related to regulation, that can be part of uncertainty."

In the online survey, which was conducted in January by the Milwaukee-based marketing research firm Market Probe, Wisconsin small-business owners ranked their top business challenges -- after economic uncertainty at 31% -- as poor sales (14%), government regulations (12%), taxes (10%) and competition from large businesses (8%). Sixty-four percent of Wisconsin businesses in the poll characterized their financial health as at least "good."

Although they ranked health care/Medicare as the second-most important national issue -- behind the federal budget deficit and debt -- 57% of Wisconsin small-business owners surveyed said health care reform would be negative in the long run.

The survey found owners in Wisconsin are more likely to add staff than cut employees, with 23% saying they expect to increase their workforce in the next 12 months and only 4% saying they expect to reduce staffing. Nationally, 16% surveyed said they expected to add staff in the next 12 months, while 5% said they expected to cut workers.


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