Chamber survey shows uncertainty

A recent survey found many Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce members are approaching 2013 with caution and a lack of optimism for economic development.

Forty-seven percent of the 339 chamber members who responded to the organization’s semi-annual Economic Outlook survey between Nov. 19 and 30 said they are less optimistic now than they were this spring about the economy in general. Another 24 percent said they were more optimistic about the economy and 28 percent said their outlook is the same as it was six months ago.

The chamber has 975 members.

When asked to choose up to three items that will significantly impact their business this year, nearly 36 percent of respondents picked “increased business costs due to new fees and regulations.” The second most-popular answer with 34.5 percent of the vote was “perception of a weak economy,” a category that has earned first- or second-place in the poll during every Economic Outlook survey since fall 2008. Close behind were “implementation of the new health care law,” with 32 percent, and “consumer confidence,” with 31 percent of the vote.

Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke said she was a little surprised at the pessimism in the survey because she thought having a decision in the Nov. 6 presidential election, no matter who won, would give businesses some much-desired certainty. Knowing the rules, she said, helps businesses at least “play the game.” But she said the election has been followed by more uncertainty about potential regulations, Affordable Health Care Act timelines and rules, and what will happen with the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of this year.

“I think it’s fear of the unknown,” Schwenke said. “We won’t be able to tell the full implications until the rules are set.”

Schwenke said stock market plunges during the survey period may have also contributed to three-quarters of survey respondents labeling the national economy “weak” or “extremely weak,” while two-thirds said the local economy is “weak” or “extremely weak.” In November 2011’s outlook survey, 87 percent of respondents called the national economy weak and 76 percent said the same about the local economy.

While more members see the national and local economies as “stable” or “strong” this year compared to last year, the percentage of respondents who anticipate delaying capital expenditures for at least six months due to the economy increased from 46 percent this spring to 52 percent this fall. The percentage of respondents who expect sales to increase in the next six months decreased from 37 percent this spring to 25 percent this fall, and 16 percent of companies planned as of November to increase the number of employees at their business, down from 22 percent this spring.

The urge to delay business growth and slow sales projections is linked to caution among local businesses, according to CommWest President Nate Wallace, a chamber member who works with numerous business contacts with his communications company.

“I think a lot of people want to be optimistic but I think people just have to be cautious,” he said. “What type of regulations we’re going to have with oil and gas as well as health insurance and taxes — it affects people’s bottom lines.”


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