Small Business Outlook Remains Dim, According to Chamber

A recent survey of small businesses found economic optimism in short supply, at least on a national level. Locally, however, the outlook was considerably more positive.

In the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Outlook Survey for Q4 2011, a whopping 85% of respondents said that the U.S. economy was on the wrong track, while 63% said that they would keep the same number of employees over the next year. On a local basis, however, the most recent data showed a significant increase in the percentage who believed their local economy was on the right track, from 33% in Q3 to 45% in Q4. The data was even more positive on a company-by-company basis, with 69% of respondents saying that they believed their business was headed in the right direction.

The poll indicated that the larger the scale, the more pessimistic the outlook was for small businesses, and the chief culprit for all the national economy's trouble could be found on Capitol Hill. Seventy-eight percent of small businesses surveyed reported that the taxation, regulation and legislation from Congress make it harder for their business to hire more employees, and 86% said they would rather have more certainty from Washington than more assistance (6%) to deal with the economy.

"The policies coming out of Washington are only exacerbating the economic uncertainty that small businesses continue to cite as their greatest challenge," said U.S. Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue. "Heading into an election year, our country's job creators are speaking with a unified voice in saying that we need a change of course in Washington. With government spending and regulations out of control, small businesses don't know what's going to hit them next."

Many small businesses blamed both parties for the current state of the nation's economy, but reserved the harshest judgment for the Democratic Party. Whereas 55% of participants disapproved of the GOP, 88% disapproved of the Democrats, which could have major ramifications for this November's elections. In the same poll, 98% of small businesses said that they considered a candidate's position on free enterprise and business issues as "important" in deciding how they'll vote.

The survey defined a small business as a company with fewer than 500 employees and annual revenues of less than $25 million. A total of 1,322 company executives were polled, 515 of which were U.S. Chamber members, and 807 of which were not.

Jacob Barron, CICP, NACM staff writer

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