Getting Back On Track

Posted on Jan 1, 2011 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

If it feels like the economy is on the rebound, you’re not alone. Business leaders from across Northeast Wisconsin reported better numbers for the past year and are predicting even better performance in 2011, according to the results of the 2010 First Business Economic Survey of Northeast Wisconsin, which was conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research in September and October 2010.

Some of the key findings from the survey, which was presented Dec. 16 at Butte des Morts Country Club in Appleton, include:

» 50 percent of firms reported increased sales revenue, up from 20 percent in the previous year
» 45 percent reported increased profitability in 2010 compared to just 12.5 percent in 2009
» 75 percent of businesses plan to maintain or increase the number of employees in the coming year, compared to 58 percent a year ago
» 75 percent plan to maintain or increase capital expenditures, up from 62 percent in 2009

“Some industries in Northeast Wisconsin saw significant increases in sales and profitability,” says Mickey Noone, president of the Northeast Region of First Business Bank. “Technology and manufacturing industries have recovered nicely and that’s a good indicator for our future.”

David Ward, president and founder of NorthStar Economics in Madison, says while the survey is better than a year ago, the economy still has a long way before regaining its pre-recession luster. “Businesses are really taking it one step at a time, but overall companies have weathered the storm,” says Ward, who evaluated the study for attendees at the December event.

The way many businesses survived the recession – becoming leaner – will only pay off down the road, Noone says. “It’s a great indicator for the future to see that businesses are making the necessary changes and investing in the future through an increase in capital expenditures,” he says.

Ward concurs, adding businesses – especially manufacturers – must run lean operations to compete on the global stage. “When we look back at the recession three to five years from now, I think we’ll see just how well it prepared our manufacturers to compete with increasingly stronger global competition,” he says.

After Ward’s presentation on the study, Noone joined a panel discussion with other business leaders, including Marinette Marine CEO Richard McCreary, Boldt Construction CEO Tom Boldt, Steve Morton, president of Morton Drug Co; Karen Monfre, a partner at WIPFLI; and Peter Helander, CEO of Heartland Business Systems. Insight Publications Co-Publisher and Executive Editor Margaret LeBrun moderated the discussion.

Looking to 2011, many business leaders expect to see similar results to what they saw in 2010, Ward says, adding many leaders are uncertain about the future and that is tempering optimism. “It’s health care, it’s taxes and no one is quite sure what is going to happen. That’s hard on businesses,” he says