Businesses had great 2018, more cautious on 2019

Posted on Jan 23, 2019 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive.
Posted by of Insight Publications

While most Northeast Wisconsin business leaders reported meeting or exceeding their 2018 goals in the 10th annual First Business Bank Economy Survey of Northeastern Wisconsin, there is a little caution heading into 2019 as business leaders worry about unpredictability, whether it is from market fluctuations, tariffs or political strife in Washington.

In the survey, 68 percent of Northeast Wisconsin business leaders reported meeting or exceeding their 2018 goals. The survey results were presented today at the Local Economic Trends – Northeast Wisconsin event presented by First Business Bank at the Butte des Morts Country Club in Appleton.

Other survey highlights include:

  • 80 percent reported actual sales revenue increase, up from 62 percent in the previous year
  • 49 percent increased their number of employees
  • 63 percent increased wages
  • 55 percent reported increased profitability — a historic high for the survey

“It was a great year for businesses in Northeast Wisconsin,” says Rick Hearden, president – Northeast Wisconsin Market, for First Business Bank. “Of particular note is a record-breaking sales increase in 2018, and it speaks volumes to me that 94 percent of survey respondents expect the same or better performance in 2019.”

When looking at the 2019 projections, Hearden says it is important to note the survey was conducted before the November midterm elections and the equity market sell-off in December.

After sharing the survey results, Susan Finco, president and owner of Leonard & Finco Public Relations, led a panel discussion on what business leaders are seeing in the economy.

Steve Romme of Dynamic Insights in Neenah says people are worried about a possible economic slowdown and that it will come earlier than what had been expected.

“Business leaders are distracted. They are worried about issues they can’t control — tariffs, the government shutdown, Brexit and more — rather than focusing on their business and what they need to do to make sure their company is doing the best it can.”

Jeff Anderson, president of Precision Paper Converters in Kaukauna, says he is seeing hints that the once-booming economy may be slowing down.

“Tariffs are a big concern in my industry, and I have noticed pulp prices are going down, and in my experience, that is a sign of softer market,” he says.

Businesses of all sizes continue to struggle to find enough quality workers, and that may limit their growth potential, says John Krause of Baker Tilly in Appleton.

“The No. 1 issue remains finding enough skilled labor. We need to get more students interested and (for people to know) that not everyone needs a four-year degree,” he says. “Another aspect in today’s workforce as the millennials come on board is that they expect quick ascension to higher positions. Businesses need to be open and transparent about the pathways for future growth in the company.”

The Heart and Vascular Institute of Wisconsin opens April 1 in Grand Chute, says CEO Larry Sobal. While the doctors are ready to start April 1, he still needs to hire 50 employees.

“I have, fortunately, received more applicants than positions, so then it becomes a matter of how they fit into the culture of patient-first we will have here,” Sobal says. “I will say when recruiting physicians, we also need to recruit their spouse, too. Is this some place that they want to live and grow their family?”

Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna says the area’s high quality of life, good schools, low crime rates and the continuous initiative of making our city more diverse attracts many people to the area and then once here, gets them to stay.

“Young talents like diverse areas and it also expands our talent pool,” he says.