Surveys: Business outlook optimistic but tempered by expectations of slow growth

As elected officials debate another government-led kickstart to the U.S. economy, business leaders are optimistic about their own prospects but resigned to slower growth overall.

That’s the gist of two recent surveys gauging the outlook of executives who have spent the last six months grappling with the crippling impact of a pandemic that has taken more than 200,000 lives and cost 22 million jobs in the U.S. 

Business leaders acknowledge that the economic rebound will be slow in coming. Even if governments further loosen restrictions related to Covid-19, the recovery will not be quick, according to 53% of CEOs surveyed by Harrisburg-based marketing firm Merit. The survey of 32 CEOs was conducted in May but results were released this month.

A survey by Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group found that only 21% of owners and executives were optimistic about the national economy. That’s a drop from the spring — when the figure was just above 40% — but higher than the single-digit readings during the Great Recession more than a decade ago, PNC said. The bank’s survey was conducted in August and September and covers 500 small and midsized businesses nationwide, including 150 in Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Congress has been debating another round of economic relief, while Pennsylvania officials are proposing several hundred million dollars in aid to small businesses and restaurants. Additional relief is important to 58% of Pennsylvania businesses surveyed by PNC. But it’s unclear when or how more funding will arrive.

Nonetheless, businesses were largely optimistic about their own ability to forge ahead. In the Merit survey in May, 94% of CEOs were confident in the viability of their business sectors, though small-company CEOs were somewhat-less bullish, with 91% reporting confidence.

Denise Kohnke is chief strategy officer at Merit, a marketing agency based in Harrisburg (PHOTO/SUBMITTED)

Big and small companies also diverged on their ability to develop new strategies in response to the pandemic. At companies with more than 1,000 employees, CEOs were 100% confident in their ability, compared to 70% for CEOs of companies with less than 201 employees, according to Merit.

Would they answer the same way today? Business leaders are naturally optimistic and resilient, said Denise Kohnke, chief strategy officer of Merit. They have spent the last year reevaluating and reinventing their business models. In May, half were considering an acquisition or investment, according to the Merit survey.

But leaders also are going through unprecedented times and small changes could have dramatic effects.

The ability to eat outside at a restaurant this summer likely brought back a feeling of normalcy for many people, Kohnke said. But that will change as temperatures drop and outside dining comes to an end.

“It sounds simple and remedial but that will have a ripple effect on business,” Kohnke said.

— By Joel Berg, editor of BizNewsPA

Click here to subscribe to our daily email newsletter.


Gladly Sponsored By:

More Central PA News

Podcast: Inclusive hiring

When Michael Coy joined Wolfgang Confectioners as its workforce development manager, the candy maker employed about five people who spoke Spanish. Now, the Loganville-based company

Read More »