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Union Bank's 10th Annual Small Business Survey Shows California Entrepreneurs Cautiously Optimistic about Economic Recovery
(March 19, 2010)
Outlook Has Improved but Respondents Still Wary of Investing in Business Expansion
Ninety-Five Percent of Respondents Say They Do Not Anticipate Layoffs in 2010After coping with layoffs, declining sales and spending cutbacks in 2009, California small business owners are planning to play it safe in 2010. The results of Union Bank's 10th Annual Small Business Survey, released today, show that the majority of business owners intend to keep capital expenditures and staffing levels the same as last year.
However, the survey-which has been tracking small business trends in California since 2000-also demonstrates that last year's high level of pessimism has given way to a more positive outlook.
Anticipating Economic Recovery
Fifty-three percent of business owners expect to see an economic recovery during the second half of 2010 and into 2011. Just over half of the respondents (51 percent) are optimistic about seeing higher profits in 2010. This represents a 17 percent increase from last year's study, which showed a nine-year low in respondents' profitability outlook.
The 2010 survey, based on interviews conducted in January, is the largest in the past decade, with 2,541 participants statewide.
"We've been through the deepest recession since the 1930s, so it's not surprising that small business owners are in a holding pattern," said Executive Vice President Joseph Benoit, head of Union Bank's Business Banking group. "Most entrepreneurs believe the worst is over, but they're still taking a very conservative position because of the slow pace of the recovery. They're not confident enough to shift into a growth mode yet."
The survey data show that nearly one out of four business owners (24 percent) had to lay off employees for financial reasons in 2009. This is a five percent increase from 2008 and the highest level of layoffs since the survey began tracking staffing reductions in 2002. Business owners reporting layoffs hit a low of six percent in 2006, but the number has increased each year since then.
Nearly half of business owners (48 percent) reported lower sales in 2009 compared to 2008, the largest percentage in the history of the survey. Fifty-five percent cut their operating costs last year, and 39 percent reduced their debt to protect their company from turmoil in the financial system.
"Given all these difficulties, it's encouraging to see that 95 percent of small business owners do not anticipate layoffs in 2010," said Senior Vice President Christy Schmitt, head of Union Bank's Retail Small Business Banking.
The top challenge identified in running a business in California - the state's economy - remained the same as last year, and this result accurately reflects much weaker economic data for California than the rest of the nation, according to Union Bank's Director of Economic Research, Senior Vice President Kei Matsuda. For example, California lost six percent of its payroll employment in 2009 while the nation lost only 4.3 percent.
According to the survey results, the state's economy is the number one concern of 60 percent of business owners, a five percent increase from last year as 57 percent felt the state's budget crisis had a moderate or significant impact on their business in 2009.
As concern about the national economy dropped from 31 percent last year to 25 percent this year, state and local business taxes emerged as the second biggest challenge to doing business in California. This is the top challenge for 38 percent of business owners, up from 30 percent last year.
The third biggest challenge continues to be workers' compensation costs (29 percent). For the third year in a row, most business owners (65 percent) said their workers' compensation insurance premiums remained the same in 2009 as the previous year. However, another 26 percent reported a rise in their premiums, a five percent increase from the previous year.
As in last year's survey, business owners want the Obama Administration to provide relief by cutting taxes on small businesses, creating tax incentives to encourage job creation and lowering health care costs.
"Small business owners in California are still hoping for relief from both the state and federal government to reduce costs that are outside their control," said Aida Alvarez, the former head of the Small Business Administration during the Clinton Administration and a member of Union Bank's board of directors. "Those who have survived the recession by reducing spending remain cautious as they wait to see what happens this year in Sacramento and Washington."
Other Survey Highlights
About the Survey
About UnionBanCal Corporation & Union Bank, N.A.
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