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73% of Greater Madison Business Leaders Report Meeting or Exceeding Expectations in 2019

MADISON, WIS. December 11, 2019 – Nearly three out of four Greater Madison business executives reported continued strong performance in 2019, according to results of the 17th annual First Business Bank Economic Survey released today at the Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center in Madison.

“Although in some cases results didn’t match the exceedingly positive predictions business owners had for 2019, it was a positive year in the Greater Madison area,” said Jim Hartlieb, President of First Business Bank. “Local businesses seem largely unaffected by the trade war and other current economic forces. The impact of the low unemployment rate and skills shortage is showing up in a record number of companies reporting wage increases, which is not surprising.”

Sales & Profitability
This year saw a dip in reported sales revenue increases as 58% of respondents reported a sales revenue increase, down from 75% in 2018 (a record high), however most (73%) project higher sales in 2020. Profitability remained nearly the same as 2018 — 51% reported increased profits in 2019, just two points below 2018. Looking ahead to 2020, 62% project an increase in profits, where in 2018, only 55% projected a profitability increase for 2019.

Hiring & Wages
Looking forward, the projection for hiring and wages remains strong. Companies reporting wage increases hit a 17-year record high in 2019: 88% report increased wages, six percentage points higher than reported in 2018. Just 1% of respondents report decreased wages in 2019, tying the survey’s historic low of 2015. Further, a record-high 81% of respondents predict higher wages still in 2020, up from 77% the previous year. Only 1% project a decrease in number of employees in 2020, a new historic low.

Overall Expectations
Business performance was positive but muted compared to 2018: 29% report better-than-expected performance, a full 10 points lower than in 2018, and 44% met expectations (vs 38% in 2018), bringing the total of respondents who met or exceeded expectations in 2019 to 73%, down from 79% in 2018. On the opposite side of the spectrum, 27% report worse-than-expected performance (up from 23% in 2018.) Of the 27% of respondents who reported not meeting their expectations, most cited the skills shortage as a primary obstacle followed closely by higher operating costs. Survey respondents remain positive entering 2020, a presidential election year: 67% expect to do better (down from 74% the previous year), but just 3% expect to do worse (down from 7% the previous year). Another 30% expect to do just as well in 2020 as they did in 2019.

A summary of the local results presented at today’s First Business Bank seminar included:

  • 88% report increased wages, a record high, 6 points over last year’s 82%
  • 44% noted an increase in their number of employees, down from 2018’s 62% historic high
  • 58% saw a sales increase – down from 75% in 2018
  • 51% report increased profits in 2019; just two points below 2018
  • 73% project higher sales revenue in 2020, down from 78% projection in 2018
  • The outlook for 2020 is positive, with 97% of companies expecting improved or unchanged performance, up from 93% last year.

Results of the 17th annual First Business Bank Economic Survey were presented today at the First Business Bank Dane County Economic Trends event at the Monona Terrace Conference & Convention Center. Every year, local business leaders report performance in the current year and predictions for next year. First Business Bank conducts the survey annually in the Greater Madison Area, Southeast Wisconsin, Northeast Wisconsin, and the Kansas City Metro to help business owners plan for the upcoming year.

Download the full First Business Economic Survey 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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