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Greater Shelby Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kirk Mancer speaks at the chamber's 36th annual meeting on Jan. 25, 2017.
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2017 Chair Keith Brown (left) with 2016 Chair Paul Rogers at the Greater Shelby Chamber of Commerce's 36th annual meeting on Jan. 25, 2017.
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Stephen Craft, dean of the University of Montevallo Stephens College of Business, speaks at the chamber's 36th annual meeting on Jan. 25, 2017.
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Rep. Arnold Mooney (center) received the Business Champion Award from the Business County of Alabama during the chamber's 36th annual meeting on Jan. 25, 2017.
Members of the Greater Shelby Chamber of Commerce are optimistic about how businesses will do in 2017, according to a survey conducted in partnership with the University of Montevallo’s Stephens College of Business.
Starting in October, chamber members were asked to respond to the second annual Shelby County Business Outlook Survey, which polled participants on what they believe affects business and what they thought the business climate would be like in 2017. Stephen Craft, dean of Montevallo’s business school and a professor at the university, presented the survey responses during the Chamber’s 36th Annual Meeting at the Pelham Civic Complex on Jan. 25.
“I’m going to give just a few numbers to firm the context of what we know about the current state of the U.S. economy, in a macro sense, and what some of the predictions are,” Craft said. “Although, you can get in a lot of trouble trying to predict what’s going to happen in the economy.”
The country’s economy is doing pretty well, Craft said, with GDP growth increasing in the second and third quarter of 2016, and unemployment dropping from 10 percent in 2009 to 4.7 percent in December 2016.
“We’re generally in the positive direction both domestically in the U.S. and internationally,” Craft said.
In regard to Shelby County, around 200 people responded to the survey, which was distributed to chamber members via email. Of respondents, around 63 percent have fewer than 50 full time employees.
“We are definitely getting the perspective of small businesses and high-growth businesses,” Craft said.
When asked about the overall 2017 business outlook, 82 percent of respondents — up from last year’s 79 percent — said they expect revenue to increase. Only 7.4 percent said they expect it to shrink.
“You all are a very optimistic group of people, and that’s a good thing,” Craft added. “That’s a really good thing.”
About 43 percent expect full-time employment to increase to a degree and 31 percent expect part-time employment to increase, Craft said, and 86 percent of respondents expect debt to remain the same.
Participants were also polled on what affects job creation in Shelby County, and most said factors such as cost of unemployment insurance, taxes and fees, unemployment insurance and workers compensation do not affect job creation in the county. Factors many believe does impact job creation, Craft said, were difficulty in finding skills and experience and a growth in sales. The need for talent, Craft said is a hurdle many businesses are facing.
“Shelby County, like many developed cities and developed economic areas, is in a profound talent crunch,” Craft said. This talent crunch comes from the retirement of the baby boomer generation, and companies having to work to back fill those positions, Craft said.
“We have lots of talented workers coming into the workforce, and we’re proud to present our students to the workforce every year, but the ability to back fill those positions is really challenging, and it’s changing the relationship fundamentally of potential employees and employers,” Craft said.
During the course of the survey, Craft said a natural experiment took place. The survey started before the presidential election and continued accepting answers following the election. Because the election results were not what many expected, Craft said he was interested to see how the results affected survey answers.
To his disappointment, however, there was no statistically significant different.
“When it comes to your business, and predicting what would happen, it turns out you’re almost indifferent,” Craft said. “There was almost no change. … You were pretty positive before the election and you remained pretty positive after the election.”
In summary, Craft said survey responses indicated business owners in Shelby County believe employment will increase, profits will increase, capital investment will continue, and jobs will continue to be created when there is business to be done.
“The business community of Shelby County said ‘We’re going to have a successful 2017 no matter who wins the election,’” Craft said.
Also during the luncheon, new chamber chair Keith Brown was introduced, and he recognized the chairs and vice chairs of the chamber’s work groups and thanked immediate past chair Paul Rogers for his work with the chamber.
Rep. Arnold Mooney also received the Business Champion Award from the Business County of Alabama during the luncheon. Mooney received the award based on his leadership which led to the passing of the Right to Work constitutional amendment, according to a press release.