Surveys find mixed outlook among small-business owners

//September 23, 2009//

Surveys find mixed outlook among small-business owners

//September 23, 2009//

Listen to this article

State, national reports indicate optimism about economy tempered by fears of company failure.Garden State business owners say they’re cautiously optimistic about the prospects for an economic recovery, according to a new statewide survey by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, which seems to complement a national survey that showed similar trends.

Though nearly half are “extremely confident” their company will survive the recession, only about one-fifth expect their enterprise to be doing “significantly better” a year from now.

Layoffs were the chief method companies employed to cut costs, noted the survey, followed by pay freezes and reduced hours. About one-fifth of the respondents reduced or eliminated 401(k) contributions, while a similar percentage passed more health benefit costs on to employees. About 43 percent plan to restore full benefits once the economy recovers, while 46 percent said they were unsure about what they’ll do.

“We were pleased that many of our members feel they will be performing better a year from now, and that the majority are confident they will survive the recession,” said Kevin Friedlander, senior vice president of communications at the state chamber. “The survey also reveals that companies of all sizes and industries have implemented a variety of dramatic cost savings steps to get through these tough times.”

Meanwhile, for the first time since 2007, a majority of small businesses across the nation are upbeat about the near term, according to a new survey released by American Express. Despite that, they’re still keeping a tight grip on spending, notes the American Express Open Small Business Monitor, a semi-annual survey of business owners.

Although 55 percent of the companies surveyed were optimistic about the future, most still think the economy will get worse before it gets better, according to the national survey. Nearly one in six small companies also said economic woes could drive them out of business in the next six months.

Nearly seven in 10 entrepreneurs were “stressed out” by the economy, and about a third said the current economy drove them to question their decision to become an entrepreneur, the survey said.

Younger entrepreneurs seemed less worried than their older counterparts. About 48 percent of business owners aged 18 to 28 expected their companies to grow regardless of the economy. That was much better than the attitudes of baby boomers (27 percent), aged 45 to 63, and those in Generation X (22 percent), aged 29 to 44.

By category, manufacturers were the most positive, with 33 percent seeing the economy improving with expanding opportunities, compared to 28 percent of business services companies, 22 percent of retailers and 26 percent of total small-business owners.

“There appears to be a dichotomy where many small businesses are seeing signs of improvement while other firms are still struggling to make payroll,” said Susan Sobbott, American Express Open president. “For the first time since 2007, the majority of small businesses are optimistic about the near-term future, in part because of less competition. However, some of the less-healthy firms are dipping into cash reserves and personal assets to stem the tide of declining sales.”

E-mail Martin C. Daks at [email protected]