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December 14, 2016

First Business Economic Survey of Dane County Shows Strong Business Performance for 2016, Strong Optimism for 2017

MADISON, WI – December 14, 2016 – The results of the 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 employee, changes in wages, and changes in pricing.  

First Business has annually underwritten the survey to help business owners achieve a broad based and up-to-date understanding of the local business climate, which includes information that can be utilized in planning for the coming year.  

“This year’s survey again reflects a very positive perspective regarding current year results by Dane County businesses.  However, a mix of responses around Capital Expenditures continues to show cautiousness in my opinion.  I’m encouraged by the collective outlook for 2017. There’s an uptick in sales expectations that I think bodes well for all of Dane County,” commented Mark Meloy, CEO of First Business Bank. “Strong indicators continue in both hiring and wages which generally is a positive sign for everyone.”

"2016 was another strong year across the board for Dane County businesses; not quite record-setting, but a very good year nonetheless in terms of both sales revenue and profitability.  Expectations for 2017 are very positive as well, and that’s in line with what we’re seeing in the economy overall," said Dr. Moses Altsech, a faculty member at UW-Madison and President of Altsech Consulting, the firm that conducted this year’s survey.  "This year a record number of companies hired new staff, while wage increases were near historic-high levels.  The positive projections for 2017 are welcome news not only for companies, but also for their employees and everyone in our community."

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

  • 74% of respondents indicated that 2016 either lived up to expectations or was better than expected in terms of overall performance.
  • The number of companies that saw an increase in Actual Sales increased to from 65% in 2015 to 71% in 2016.
  • 57% of Dane County companies reported an increase in Actual Profitability in 2016, up from 54% the previous year.
  • A new historic high of 51% of respondents reported an increase in Actual Number of Employees in 2016, up from a still-strong 44% the previous year, and a near-historic high 50% say their Projected Number of Employees in 2017 will be higher as well
  • 75% of respondents saw Actual Wages increase in 2016 (up from 71% the previous year.
  • 38% of respondents reported an increase in Actual Capital Expenditures in 2016, almost unchanged from the previous year’s 37%. 12% reported a decrease, close to the historic low of 10% observed in 2015.
  • 43% noted an increase in Actual Total Operating Cost as a Percentage of Revenue in 2016.
  • 47% saw an Actual Pricing increase (up from 44%), and just about half saw no change at all.  Just 4% saw an Actual Pricing decrease in 2016.

The outlook for 2017 remains very optimistic: the number of companies that project increased Sales and Profits is very strong, and those projecting a decline are near last year’s historic lows. Those expected to increase hiring are almost tied to 2016’s historic high. 70% of respondents expect further improvements in overall performance in 2017, down from just over 75% of respondents in 2016, and the percentage of those who expect a decline remains in the low single digits.

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

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