The regional business community is a bit more optimistic about the economy in 2011 than many may have thought. That's the big take away from the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce's first survey of businesses in King County, released Tuesday.
Mike Parks, editor emeritus of Marple's Northwest Business Letter and one of the morning's panelists, said the optimism was the thing that struck him most about the report. But he also added the state has more to be optimistic about than other areas on the West Coast. Washington state lost about 6 percent of its jobs from peak to trough in the recent recession, according to Parks. Idaho and Oregon lost 8.2 percent of jobs and California 9 percent.
Overall, the survey of nearly 1,200 businesses in Seattle-King County showed 41 percent of respondents said they expected to add employees in 2011 with only 7.7 percent expecting to decrease employees. Most of the new jobs are coming from mid-sized companies with from six to 100 employees. "This was the sweet spot," said Alison Peters, who wrote and developed the survey with the Chamber.
However, the good news was tempered by concerns that new regulations and taxes to fill growing government budget deficits could threaten the fragile economic recovery underway. And there were continuing concerns that the education system, especially higher education, is not meeting the needs of business here.
"The survey confirms what we've been seeing anecdotally — we are beginning to emerge from the economic doldrums, but we are not out of the woods yet," Maud Daudon, Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce chair, and Seattle-Northwest Securities Corporation president and CEO, said in a statement.
This State of the Union report is the first comprehensive snapshot of local economic activity based on surveying 1,200 businesses on what they see as the challenges in the economy, opportunities for growth and what steps they are taking to prosper.
Key findings from the survey include:
- A majority of businesses, 56 percent, say they expect their company to do better in the next year and only 7 percent think they will be worse off.
- Next year, 41 percent of businesses expect to hire, with the majority of the new jobs coming from mid-size companies. Large and small companies reported limited hiring prospects. (Some small companies said they did not want to expand — they did best by remaining small.)
- The top performing job sectors that hired, added new products or increased contracts in 2009: information technology/gaming, international trade, professional services, and life sciences.
- The industry sectors most optimistic about their business prospects are human services, international trade, food/beverage/retail, and IT/gaming; the least optimistic sectors are government, real estate/construction, energy/environment, and aerospace/manufacturing.
- Our region's high quality of life and environment is the top benefit of doing business in King County.
Survey results also show the region is really no better off than other areas when it comes to education and jobs. The survey showed a definite mismatch between degrees offered and the kinds of degreed workers companies here are demanding.
"A strong education system is key to growing jobs and emerging from the recession, but education has recently taken some of the largest cuts," said Daudon. "This survey provides clear evidence that cutting education funding makes economic recovery an even steeper hill to climb for those looking for work and businesses trying to grow; in fact this is an area where we need to make sure we are investing."
Another key finding was the importance of mobility. Companies said getting around the region was an important part of doing business. One company owner said that he was concerned that its competitors have moved to the suburbs and are attracting workers away from its business.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, the keynote speaker, said the survey also showed the importance of the region. While Seattle businesses were heavily represented in the survey, more than a third were from King County.
"It is important to see ourselves as one large region, the Puget Sound economic region," Constantine said. "We stand and fall together."
The survey is made possible through a cooperative effort between the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and dozens of local business organizations.