Survey Results Highlight Caution Felt by Small Business Community

Mary-Jo Christensen, who owns Marydale Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in northwest Missouri, said she’s uncertain about the direction the economy is heading.

“It’s that I’m positive or not positive,” she said of the economy this week. “I just don’t know.”

Christensen’s sentiment about the economy is echoed by experts who commented on a National Federation of Business Survey released last week by the National Federation of Independent Business. According to the report’s small business optimism index, businesses surveyed were more willing to increase their employment and make capital outlays. They also are expecting sales to increase and for the economy to improve. But their feelings on the credit environment and expanding went down, as did earnings, according to the survey’s news release. The report’s findings were from August surveys of 736 random businesses who are members of the NFIB, according to the report’s news release.

Christensen’s business in Jameson has gotten progressively better since she opened three and a half years ago. The inn has not seen a decrease in revenue, she said.

But according to the NFIB’s survey results, many businesses did see a decrease in revenue. Estimated revenue for 2012 was also higher than actual income, according to the results.

“More of them saw lower sales than the previous month. Actually in the previous five months,” said Holly Wade, senior policy analyst at the National Federation of Independent Business. According to the report, estimated sales were higher than actual sales so far for the year of 2012.

Wade said the NFIB has information from individual regions of the country but only uses it for internal uses because the sample sizes get too small.

“We’re certainly glad to see that they’re seeing some more light at the end of the tunnel here as far as improved conditions in the recovery because they’ve been so sluggish,” she said.

Ron Mueller, director of the Small Business Development Center in St. Charles, Mo., said he thinks the upcoming election is a factor in small businesses’ sentiments about expanding in the economy right now.

“I think there’s somewhat of a wait and see what the election’s going to bring attitude amongst small businesses,” he said. “One that question is answered, I think they’ll probably make the decision in what direction they’re going to go.”

Mueller said if small businesses were going to make big changes right now, there’s got to be a big reason for it.

“Some of the problems that we have in small business, the root cause of the those problems, I don’t know if the Democrats and Republicans are going to dramatically change that,” he said.

Shaun Sappenfield, the existing business manager at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, also said he hears words like “cautiously optimistic” and “trying to do more with less” to describe small businesses’ current states. Like Mueller, Sappenfield thinks the election is a factor for small businesses right now.

“They’re basically just holding tight and seeing what the next few months bring,” he said.

Brad Jones, Missouri State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business said businesses are doing more with less which is not something unique to Missouri. However, the state’s unemployment numbers are lower than the national average, he noted.

“And they’re still in what call hunker-down mode,” he said. “They just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Jones also noted the political environment is a reason for cautious business environment. He said some of the decisions implemented by the Obama Administration such as his healthcare plan have made some businesses hesitant and that some of the administration’s decisions have created “a cloud that they feel is anti-entrepreneur.”

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