Northwest business owners optimistic about economy, survey finds

By BBJ Staff

Small business owners across the Pacific Northwest feel optimistic about the economy, according to a new survey.

More than half of small business owners in Washington and Oregon and Washington said that both the national and local economies are headed in the right direction.

That’s up 14 points on the national economy question, and points on the local economy question from last year’s survey.

Union Bank conducted its annual survey from the end of December 2016 to the beginning of January 2017, and posed questions about the economy, the business climate and the future to almost 700 small business owners across California, Oregon and Washington.

The vast majority of Washington and Oregon respondents, 96 percent, said they are confident in their own company. That’s an increase of 17 points from the previous year.

“It is very encouraging to see more business owners holding a positive view of U.S. economy compared to last January,” said Union Bank managing director Todd Hollander, head of business banking, in a statement. “This confidence is essential if further job growth and expansion is to occur.”

A quarter of Northwest small business owners hired new employees in 2016, but now 90 percent said they plan to keep staffing levels the same.

More than half of respondents said they had stable sales last year, and while most West Coast small business owners plan to keep prices the same in the coming year, one in four said they will raise prices.

Despite Washington’s recent minimum wage increase, Northwest business owners are less worried about proposed minimum wage increases. Only 16 percent of the respondents in Washington and Oregon said they were very or extremely concerned about proposed changes versus 23 percent of survey participants for all of the West Coast.

About 45 percent of all respondents said the government has done a poor or very poor job of supporting small businesses, but 40 percent of all participants were in favor of more government programs to help stimulate business growth.

Small business owners said the federal government could help in other ways, too, by lowering interest rates, increasing access to capital and credit, and reducing regulation and legislation aimed at keeping jobs in the U.S.

Almost three-quarters of Northwest small business owners said access to credit has been the same for the last two years. Thirteen percent applied for credit last year, and just 6 percent plan to apply for credit this year.

Small business owners were mostly split on a question about how prepared they are for changing interest rates. Most, 56 percent, reported being prepared, while 44 said they aren’t sure, or they aren’t prepared.

More than a quarter of Northwest respondents are working more hours now than they were at the same time a year ago, while most, 56 percent, are working the same amount and 16 percent are working fewer hours.

While small business owners are feeling good about their own companies and the economy, they are less optimistic about the direction of the country as a whole.

One quarter of small business owners in Oregon and Washington said they think the U.S. is headed in the right direction, compared to 38 percent of total respondents.

Northwest small business owners also have a bleaker outlook on the future.

Forty-seven percent of Washington and Oregon respondents think the business climate will get worse over the next two years, compared to 32 percent of people in California.

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