Small businesses show confidence in the economy

Robert Houk • Jul 11, 2018 at 12:00 AM

A new survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses finds small-business owners are very optimistic about the nation’s economy. The NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index posted its sixth-highest polling in its history for June at 107.2.

Although that number is down 0.6 from May, business leaders nationwide say they continue to be confident in the direction the country’s economy is heading.

“Small business owners continue to report astounding optimism as they celebrate strong sales, the creation of jobs, and more profits,” NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan said in a news release this week. “The first six months of the year have been very good to small business thanks to tax cuts, regulatory reform, and policies that help them grow.”

Business owners reported some of the strongest nominal sales in years. 
New jobs also posted a solid gain and the percent of businesses with open positions tied a record high for the NFIB index.

The confidence index has averaged an unprecedented 105.4 since December 2016, which is well above the 45-year average and coming close to the all-time high of 108.0 in July 1983. While enthusiasm for the economy remains strong, there is something troubling small business leaders. Jim Brown, Tennessee state director of NFIB, said Tuesday “finding qualified employees to fill open positions continues to be a top issue” for small businesses.

“It’s very challenging,” Brown said by phone from his office in Nashville. “The labor pool has shrunk. There has also been growth in pay for employees. It’s a completely different place than where we were in 2008 and 2009.”

He said that was the Great Recession when more than 20 of Tennessee’s 95 counties were recording “double-digit unemployment rates.” The last labor report for Tennessee put the state’s unemployment rate at 3.5 percent in May. Locally, the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area reported an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent in May, which is up from the 3 percent recorded in April.

NFIB’s monthly jobs report for July found 63 percent of business owners reported hiring or trying to hire new employees, which is up 5 points from last month and the highest level since September 1999. Twenty-one percent of those business owners also said the difficulty of finding qualified workers is their single most important business problem, a figure that is only 3 points below the NFIB survey record.

Brown said the Tennessee General Assembly was very “proactive” this year in helping business owners to connect with likely employees. He said state lawmakers approved several workforce development initiatives before leaving Nashville this year.

One such measure created an apprenticeship program to help students get into the workforce faster.

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