WMC: Wisconsin CEOs cautiously optimistic about state economy

James S. Haney, (608) 258-3400
Jim Pugh, (608) 219-0157

Moderate Growth Projected In Next Year

MADISON — Wisconsin ‘s largest employers are cautiously optimistic about job creation next year, and smaller companies are even more confident about job prospects, according to two surveys conducted by WMC released Wednesday.

“There is cautious optimism among state CEOs about our economy in the next year, with employers projecting some job creation, especially among smaller employers,” said James S. Haney, WMC president.

Twenty-nine percent of WMC board member companies say they will add employees in the next 12 months, and 45 percent of WMC members project increased employment. Cautious optimism has replaced the predictions of economic decline in last year’s survey, Haney said.

“The economy appears to have stabilized and slow growth is projected,” Haney said. Respondents said the economy will remain flat, or will experience moderate growth, and “good growth” was not projected for the state or national economies.

WMC completed two online economic outlook surveys( http://www.wmc.org/PDFfiles/Board-Survey_2010-FINAL.pdf ) last week. One survey was compiled from the WMC board of directors; and the other of WMC member CEOs. The WMC Economic Outlook Survey of WMC Directors provides a snapshot into the attitudes of the state’s largest employers, and is conducted annually. The WMC member survey is conducted periodically and provides insights into the attitudes of small, medium and large companies.

Overwhelmingly, the WMC board and full membership identified Wisconsin ‘s high taxes as the top policy issue facing the state. Cutting taxes and spending drew strong support in both surveys as a means to improving the business climate. Additionally, both surveys found strong support for regulatory relief.

“That’s why WMC is promoting the Wisconsin Jobs 2010 Agenda( http://www.wmc.org/governmentaffairs/display.cfm?ID=2222 ) , a broad set of policies to cut taxes, control spending, and reform regulations,” Haney said.

Wisconsin has seen a year of unemployment at almost 9 percent, and has been rocked by a wave of new state taxes on businesses and individuals. “We’ve seen the wrong policies at the wrong time, and we need to chart a new course to become the most competitive state in the nation,” Haney said.

The business community says Wisconsin is off on the wrong track and not going in the right direction. Of WMC directors, 83 percent said wrong track, and 17 percent said right direction. The WMC membership said 90 percent wrong direction, and only 10 percent right track. “That is simply stunning,” Haney said. “Business leaders are obviously frustrated by policies pursued at the Capitol.”

The business executives’ attitudes may be driven by their perception of state government, with 69 percent of WMC directors saying state government is very or somewhat anti-business. That intensifies among the full WMC membership, with 80 percent of members saying state government is anti-business.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to repair our reputation as a pro-business state,” Haney said. “It can be done, but it’s going to take time and leadership.”

Twenty-three percent of WMC directors said they will expand in Wisconsin in the next year or two, compared to 26 percent of the full membership.

However, 51 percent of directors say they will expand in another state or country in the next 24 months, compared to 29 percent of the WMC membership.

“That should be a warning sign to policymakers,” Haney said. “Our largest employers are putting jobs in other states and we need to create an environment in which they want to put those jobs right here for our families.”

Completing the survey online were 38 members of the WMC board of directors, and 263 of the nearly 1,200 CEOs who were sent the survey online.

Click ( http://www.wmc.org/display.cfm?ID=432 ) here for a complete history( http://www.wmc.org/display.cfm?ID=432 ) of the WMC Economic Outlook Survey .

Related Material: Economic Outlook Survey Results( http://www.wmc.org/PDFfiles/Board-Survey_2010-FINAL.pdf )