WMC survey says Wisconsin business climate improvesAsk a chamber of commerce executive in Wisconsin how the business climate is today, and you’re likely to hear “Wisconsin is open for business.”
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Ask a chamber of commerce executive in Wisconsin how the business climate is today, and you’re likely to hear “Wisconsin is open for business.”
With the highest participation in five years, nearly 90 Wisconsin chamber of commerce executives participated in the annual economic outlook survey compiled by the state chamber of commerce, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. This year’s survey results show optimism surrounding Wisconsin’s business climate with the highest percentage since 2007 — 60 percent — expecting moderate growth in their communities.
Generally, there has been a change in attitude in the government — a willingness to work with business — that is creating that new sense of optimism, said Dave Minor, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber for Superior and Douglas County. Minor was among the 90 chamber executives to respond to the survey.
It’s something the business community is hearing from state agencies like the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
“We’ve had the DNR secretary and deputy secretary up here, Paul Jadin from the new WEDC, Wyman Winston from WHEDA; when you hear these people speak constantly about how, what it is they need to do to make it better for you, that energy starts to spread,” Minor said.
“Businesses want to do what businesses do well with as little interference from government as possible,” Minor said.
A large number of chambers — 74 percent — say the state is on the right track. This is a mirror image of survey responses 12 months ago when 74 percent thought Wisconsin was heading in the wrong direction and a vast improvement over 2009, when only 18 percent thought we were on the right track.
Seventy-nine percent of the local chambers feel strongly that Wisconsin is very or somewhat pro-business, compared to only 18 percent two years ago.
“This year’s survey results show business leaders are optimistic that Wisconsin is on the right track to becoming a more business-friendly state,” said Jim Morgan, vice president of WMC and secretary/treasurer of the professional association Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Executives.
Minor said with government stepping in willing to help and not trying to find ways to slow things down, that does create an environment where business owners are willing to consider expansion.
The top concern remains the current state of the economy, cited by 82 percent of respondents.
News about the economy certainly hasn’t helped, Minor said.
“When someone tells you you’re a bad person long enough, you start to believe it,” Minor said. “If all you’re hearing out there is business is bad, business is bad, business is bad, you begin to start to wonder” even when business is going good.
The last four years have shown the three leading concerns in Wisconsin’s communities to be the state of the economy, health care costs and taxes. Rising substantially from last year is the concern over labor shortages in communities statewide with a jump from 11 percent to 32 percent.
“The chamber executives are pleased with the direction the state is headed and are working on solutions to the increasingly important issues affecting their members. The workforce “paradox” — high unemployment yet difficulty finding skilled workers for manufacturing jobs — is high on the list,” said Morgan.
The local chambers of commerce executives are again trending positive on a number of indicators. More than half — 55 percent — believe that employment in their communities will increase in 2012, compared to 49 percent last year, and 60 percent believe their communities will see moderate economic growth in 2012, compared to only 40 percent last year.
“We don’t experience the highs and we don’t experience the lows,” Minor said of the local economy. “… We’ve been fortunate on a local level. Our unemployment rate has been lower than the state, which has been lower than the national for over a year now, I think.”
Locally, he said, the area is in a good position to do well with manufacturers finding new markets, when the nation and world comes out of this economic downturn.
Minor said both locally and on a state level, he sees government willing to work with businesses. But government isn’t the answer to area’s economic success.
“I think we’re going to come out of it a lot quicker than other areas, and I think it has a lot to do with the types of businesses and the types of business people we have in this area who are really paying attention to what is going on around them, more than we ever have before,” Minor said.