The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on Northeast Wisconsin businesses in 2020, but many area executives retain an optimistic outlook for 2021 and beyond, according to results of the annual survey of businesses conducted by First Business Bank.
According to the 2021 Business Statistics & Trends Survey, 43 percent of Northeast Wisconsin respondents reported their business performed below expectations in 2020, compared to 25 percent in 2019. Fifty-seven percent of the businesses, however, reported meeting or exceeding expectations in 2020.
“It’s a tale of two economies,” said Susan Finco, owner and president of Leonard & Finco Public Relations in Green Bay. “You have one group doing great and another that’s miserable. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like that. But there’s optimism on a few levels. There’s a belief that after the vaccine it’ll be ‘Katie, bar the doors’ for the hospitality industry because people want to get out there. I was pleased to see that optimism reflected in the survey.”
Business leaders overwhelmingly attributed shortfalls to the pandemic. At the same time, others credited investments in technology, expanded product offerings and opportunities created by the pandemic for their success.
“We’ve been living with this and we’ve learned how to cope with it,” said Rick Hearden, president of the Northeast Wisconsin Market for First Business Bank. “It seems like there are brighter days ahead. We tend to be pretty optimistic people.”
In addition to Northeast Wisconsin, business leaders in Dane County, southeast Wisconsin and the Kansas City metro area took the survey, with overall results showing 36 percent of survey respondents reported better-than-projected results in 2020, 21 percent reported as-expected results, and 43 percent said their businesses performed worse than projected.
Other notes from the survey:
- Almost an equal percentage of respondents experienced an increase in sales revenue (38 percent) compared to those who reported a decrease in sales in 2020 – 38 percent.
- Profitability reflected similar changes: 38 percent reported higher profits in 2020 (down from 49 percent in 2019) and 40 percent saw lower profits, up from 25 percent in 2019.
- 56 percent of respondents reported no change in the number of employees in 2020, while 20 percent increased their employee count and 24 reported a decrease.
- Going into 2021, leaders expect improved performance, although 58 percent cite an inability to forecast with certainty as a major challenge next year. For 2021, 62 percent of respondents expect better overall business performance, and just 13 percent expect worse performance. A combined 83 percent anticipate increases or no changes in sales revenue; 80 percent also expect either an increase or no change in profitability next year. Almost two-thirds forecast higher wages at their businesses in 2021.