First Business Bank: Economic survey of northeast Wisconsin reveals downturn has hit all business sectors

Contact: Kathy Epping, 608-333-4406

For interviews with First Business executives, contact Jodie Johnson at 920-734-1800.

Business owners are optimistic about 2010

(APPLETON, WI) – December 17, 2009 – Businesses in Northeast Wisconsin continued to face economic pressures in 2009. However, despite the unsatisfactory year, business owners have positive expectations for 2010, according to a report released today by First Business Bank at the invitation-only First Business Economic Forum.

The First Business Economic Survey of Northeast Wisconsin, sponsored by First Business Bank, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and Insight Publications, and conducted by the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, showed that all business sectors reported declines in all eight economic categories surveyed– sales revenue; profitability; total operating costs as a percentage of revenue; capital expenditures; number of employees; overall wage changes; changes in pricing; and operating capacity.

More than 50 percent of businesses did not meet expectations in 2009. Fifty-seven percent of Northeast Wisconsin businesses saw a decrease in sales and a 49 percent a decrease in profitability. Although sales were down overall, the manufacturing sector was the hardest hit. Northeast firms also saw a significant decrease in employee numbers, with nearly 42 percent indicating a decrease in the number of employees. Additionally, 25 percent of businesses also saw 2009 wages decrease.

“This was definitely a year of steep declines in all economic areas reviewed,” says by Dr. E. Alan Hartman, Professor of Management and Human Resources and Former Dean of the College of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. “These declines were most severe for those selling to businesses and manufacturers and less so for those selling primarily within Northeast Wisconsin.”

Despite the disappointing year, businesses are optimistic about 2010. The report indicated 85 percent of businesses expect to do better in 2010. More than half of businesses expect sales revenue and profitability to increase in 2010 and a majority of firms anticipate wages to increase next year.

Mickey Noone, President – Northeast Region of First Business Bank said the report shows that Northeastern Wisconsin is similar to the rest of the country in feeling the impact of the national economic downturn. “Overall, Northeast Wisconsin business performance was down in 2009, much like the national picture. The expectations however for 2010 bouncing back reflect the optimism held by Northeast businesses,” Noone said.

“There are some positive signs in this report,” says Hartman. “Seventy-two percent of firms are expecting an increase in sales revenue in 2010. Northeastern Wisconsin businesses are working hard to get through these tough times. It shows resilience that I would expect from Northeast Wisconsin business owners. There is confidence in the business community”

Each year the survey asks a current event question. In 2009, businesses were asked about the impact Federal healthcare reform would have on their business. When asked, “How would the proposed healthcare legislation affect your business?” more than 62 percent responded negatively. Only 12 percent believe such legislation would have a positive effect on their business. It should be noted that health care legislation was not finalized at the time of the survey (October, 2009), so responses were not based on a specific healthcare plan.

First Business Bank has been conducting the economic survey of Northeast Wisconsin for two years. The survey was based on the responses of 373 businesses across the county. The sample size has an error range of .05 and a confidence level of 95 percent. Full survey results are available under the “Resource Center” tab at


First Business Bank – Northeast is headquartered at 3913 W. Prospect Avenue in Appleton. In addition to offering commercial loan products, First Business Bank – Northeast offers a full line of deposit, investment, and equipment finance products through its affiliates First Business Bank – Madison and First Business Trust & Investments. Among these products are: remote deposit, treasury management, Internet banking, retirement plans, investment management services, trust services, asset-based lending, and equipment finance and leasing. For additional information, visit or call 920-734-1800.

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Editors note: A live web video stream and blog of the event is being provided by Insight Publications. The web streaming begins at 4 p.m. at   

First Business Economic Survey of Northeastern Wisconsin

2009 Survey Results

Contact Jodie Johnson at 920-734-1800.

Executive Summary

This report highlights the findings of the 2009 First Business Economic Survey of Northeast Wisconsin, which was conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research in October of 2009. The online survey link was sent to 6,866 businesses in Northeast Wisconsin that were reported to have one or more employees. It was addressed to the CEO, CFO, President, and/or business owner. The survey asked questions regarding prior year and forward looking results on eight key economic indicators in each of the following areas: Sales Revenue, Profitability, Total Operating Costs as a Percentage of Revenue, Capital Expenditures, Number of Employees, Overall Wage Change, Change in Pricing, and Operating Capacity. In addition, the survey also asked questions pertaining to changes in expenses as well as the anticipated impact of the proposed legislation pertaining to healthcare reform, which during the timing of the survey was not finalized in any form. This survey has been conducted in Dane County for seven years, and this is the second year that it has been extended to include a separate analysis of the Northeast Wisconsin area businesses.

Overall, businesses in the Northeast Wisconsin region continue to face economic pressures. Over 50% of businesses did not meet expectations in 2009. Businesses reported declines in all eight of the primary economic indicators used for this survey. For example, 56.83% of businesses saw a decrease in sales revenue and 49.31% saw a decrease in profitability.

The geographic markets of Northeast Wisconsin, Midwest and Nationwide all reported either significant decreases in increased sales revenue or significant increases in decreased sales revenue. In terms of business sectors, the manufacturing and “other” sectors were the hardest hit in 2009, with the manufacturing sector reporting a drastic drop in the percentage of firms reporting increased sales revenue from 54% in 2008 to 16% in 2009. Finally, each of the three business sectors – business to business, business to consumer and business to both – were significantly impacted by further decreases in most of the eight economic indicators, with the B2B classification showing significantly negative changes in all seven economic indicators.

The overall business performance was down in 2009 compared to 2008. Capacity Utilization shifted towards a lower utilization rate. Expenses are expected to rise by 4%. The majority of businesses anticipate health care reform to negatively impact performance. Fewer than 20% of businesses surveyed met their expectations for 2009. Some of the reasons cited for low performance were uncertainty in the economic future and domestic sales shortfall.

However, despite the poor economy, nearly 85% of businesses expect to perform better in 2010. And the attitude in open-end responses was generally optimistic for the future, expressing hope for improving economic conditions in 2010.