If you had the chance to trade in old products and services for new and better ones, I’ll bet you could think of a lot of things – beyond cars – that are not only shiny and new, but offer more bang for your buck. Gone are the days when simply posting a sign, “Established in (your incorporation date) here” was enough to win the confidence of customers.
As business owners, we’re all ready for a shiny and new economy. Chances are pretty good we won’t be trading in this old and tired clunker of an economy overnight, but there are signs that the engine is warming up at last.
Back in February, economist Brian Beaulieu told a group gathered for an Oshkosh Chamber event that we would begin to see signs of the recession ending long about August this year. I liked that this guy was touted as “98 percent accurate” in his forecasts, so I made a point to look back later on how his predictions came out. At the time he said two or three indicators would see upticks by the end of summer, more signs would become evident in the fall and 2010 would bring a slow but steady climb in many market segments.
I took some informal polls among businesspeople at the recent Fox Cities Chamber Expo and the consensus was that they now see light at the end of the tunnel. Companies seem to finally be hiring (some), and small business owners are growing (at least a little).
This is all anecdotal, of course, but facts are now backing up this positive feeling. Consider:
» State unemployment dropped in August for the third month in a row, from 9.2 percent in June to 8.8 percent in July and 8.4 percent for August. (That’s still much higher than a year ago, when unemployment was 4.6 percent, but hey, the trend is optimistic.)
» Also in August, Wisconsin saw the fourth straight month of year-over-year increases in Small Business Administration loans – a direct result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which offered reduced fees and higher loan guarantees. Lenders issued $50.4 million in SBA guaranteed loans in August, up 80 percent from the $27.9 million they issued in August 2008.
Quite possibly the best economic news in the New North this year has been that the largest employer in Fond du Lac County, Mercury Marine, has not only decided to stay but will be adding hundreds of workers in the next several years (see page 42).
We’re fortunate that we have a strong, branded economic development force on our side in the New North. Business leaders in Northeast Wisconsin recognized a decade ago that we would need to work together for the long-term health of our regional economy. They commissioned a study that identified several areas where we had room for improvement. Among them was the dearth of highly-skilled technical workers to shore up our strong, but changing, manufacturing base. Today, our region has two programs that offer four-year degrees in engineering (see page 30), and they are working to fill the technical jobs that are replacing low-tech (clunker) assembly-line jobs.
New North, Inc. has also been working to help generate jobs in new industries. For one, it commissioned a study to explore cellulosic ethanol as a new and emerging industry. The results of that study, just released, determined that our region has all the necessary elements to begin producing cellulosic ethanol. It specifically identifies a recently closed (clunker) paper factory, no less (see page 10).
One great way to keep on top of your game in business is to seek the advice of your peers. Entrepreneurs Anonymous (see page 20) is one such venue. Another is the St. Norbert CEO Breakfast & Strategy Series; I’m pleased to announce that Insight will be a sponsor this year. Baylake Bank CEO Rob Cera kicks off the series Nov. 3 (see page 17). I hope to see you there!