Survey reveals expectations for county’s economy, workforce

Published 1:55 pm Wednesday, February 6, 2019

PELHAM – The Shelby County Chamber hosted its Annual Meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the Pelham Civic Complex. During the luncheon, the results from the 2019 Business Outlook Survey were shared and the gavel was passed to the 2019 chamber chair.

The gavel was passed on to 2019 Chamber Chair Bill Connor from Joe Meads and Jacqueline Gardner, the respective former chairs of the Greater Shelby and South Shelby chambers of commerce.

Afterward, Stephen Craft, dean of the University of Montevallo’s Stephens College of Business, shared the results from the 2019 Business Outlook Survey. For the third year, the survey was completed in partnership with the Stephens College of Business and the chamber.

Craft said this year’s survey garnered 232 responses, more than any of the previous online questionnaire surveys. Over the years, Craft said Shelby County business owners have proven to be optimistic about the future and tend to weather business cycles and trends fairly well.

However, there are still some issues that need to be addressed in the county’s workforce. Craft said there is still a large percentage of job applicants who can’t pass a drug screening. He added that there also aren’t enough kids going to and graduating from college.

“College isn’t for everyone, I know that, but it’s for more than we’re sending now,” he said.

Although not every student is suited for college, Craft said there still needs to be enough students entering and graduating in order to produce good talent and meet workforce demands. Right now, the county has a workforce deficit problem. Many employers report that applicants lack the experience and skill needed to perform a job.

Of the 232 businesses that responded to the survey, 64 percent have less than 50 full-time employees, and 10 percent have 500 or more full-time workers. The respondents come from various sectors of the workforce, such as education, financial services, food services, government and public administration, health care, hospitality and tourism, nonprofit, retail, technology and more.

When it comes to revenues in 2019, 87 percent of businesses expect their revenues to increase. That percentage is down a bit from the 2018 survey which showed that 92 percent of businesses expected revenues to increase. Although that figure is “not quite as rosy” as last year’s percentage, Craft said it’s still not bad.

Five percent said they expect revenues to shrink, compared to 3 percent in 2018. There was an uptick in the percentage of businesses that expect expenses to increase significantly in 2019. In 2018, 1 percent of respondents said they expected expenses to increase, compared to 8.25 percent this year.

The percentage of businesses expecting profits to increase is also down a bit this year, while more businesses are expecting their profits to decrease. But compared to last year, more businesses did report that they expect the amount of debt they have to remain the same or decrease. Only 18 percent said they expect their debt to increase, compared to 24 percent in 2018.

When it comes to employment and job creation, 52 percent of the businesses said they expect full-time employment to increase slightly or significantly, which is exactly the same as the results in the 2018 survey. This year, 5.6 percent of respondents expect full-time employment to decrease, compared to 3.5 percent in 2018.

A factor that businesses said have a major impact on job creation is difficulty finding people with the skills and experience they need. The top driver of job creation is growth in sales and a demand for business or service.

A new question on the survey asked respondents if they think Shelby County’s economy and the U.S. economy are headed in the right direction. Ninety percent said the county’s economy is on the right track and 2.25 percent feel that it is not. Seventy percent said the U.S. economy is headed in the right direction and 6.5 percent said it’s not.

Overall, Craft said the survey shows that “Shelby County business professionals and owners are a very optimistic bunch.”