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15th Annual First Business Economic Survey of Dane County


MADISON, WIS. DEC. 6, 2017 –  The results of the 15th annual First Business Economic Survey were released today at the invitation-only First Business Economic Forum. Each fall, First Business takes the pulse of local businesses through an annual economic survey in Dane County, the Greater Milwaukee Region, Southeast Wisconsin, and Northeast Wisconsin. The survey focuses on the current year’s actual and next year’s predicted: sales revenue, total operating costs, capital expenditures, profitability, number of employees, changes in wages, and changes in pricing.

First Business underwrites the survey to help business owners achieve a broad-based and up-to-date understanding of the local business climate to better plan for the coming year.

“Our 15th annual First Business Economic Survey shows widespread optimism for 2018 among Dane County business leaders,” says Mark Meloy, CEO of First Business Bank. “It’s notable that while they had very high hopes for 2017, 80% of respondents felt their expectations were met this past year, which is exceptional. It’s also significant that more than three quarters of businesses reported higher wages in 2017, beating the previous high in 2006. We are also encouraged to see that Dane County business leaders plan new investments in their workforce in 2018.”

“With fifteen years of data now in our survey, it’s interesting to see the trends in Dane County and statewide,” said Dr. Moses Altsech, a faculty member at UW-Madison and President of Altsech Consulting, the firm conducting the survey. “Dane County business leaders remain positive in most aspects of their business growth in 2018 — 99% expecting improved or unchanged performance, and with good cause. Most experienced positive sales and profitability in 2017, reporting record wage increases, as well.”

This was the fourth strong year in a row, both in terms of sales revenue and profitability. Although it didn’t measure up to the historic highs attained in 2014, it was still one of the best years in the 15-year span of the Dane County First Business Economic survey. The number of companies adding new staff was just below historic high levels, and nearly 8 out of 10 increased wages, exceeding the previous historic high observed more than a decade ago. The number of companies that decreased capital expenditures marked a new historic low, and more than 9 out of 10 companies increased or maintained their capital expenditure levels.

The outlook for 2018 remains very optimistic: The number of companies projecting increased sales and profits is slightly lower but remains very strong, and those projecting a decline in sales and profits are at or near historic lows. Those expected to increase hiring are at a new historic high, and 8 out of 10 respondents expect further improvements in overall business performance in 2018; just 1% expect a decline.

Although some uncertainty could affect business activity (such as possible changes to healthcare, corporate and individual tax rates and deductions, and potential political upheaval), it doesn’t seem to have affected current business performance or optimism for the year ahead. Business leaders say they’re capitalizing on the positive results by planning to diversify their client base in 2018, create processes for generating innovative business ideas, and creating or expanding leadership training tailored specifically to their needs.

A summary of the Dane County findings presented at today’s economic forum included:

  • Strong sales and profitability performance in 2017
  • Record increase in hiring and wages
  • 92% of respondents reported that capital expenditures remained steady or increased
  • 32% of respondents expect to increase capital expenditures in 2018
  • 8 out of 10 companies increased wages in 2017
  • Hiring projections for 2018 are at record highs
  • The outlook for 2018 is positive, with 99% of companies expecting improved or unchanged performance.


Download the full First Business Economic Survey Report for Dane County Wisconsin at www.firstbusiness.com/survey.


About First Business
First Business Financial Services is a Wisconsin-based bank holding company, focused on the unique needs of businesses, business executives and high net worth individuals. First Business offers commercial banking, specialty finance and private wealth management solutions, and because of its niche focus, is able to provide its clients with unmatched expertise, accessibility and responsiveness. For additional information, visit www.firstbusiness.com.


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