Small-business owners see reasons for optimism in coming months |  business

Small-business owners see reasons for optimism in coming months | business

Small-business owners see reasons for optimism in coming months |  business

ANDERSON — The debate over what to read into the nation’s leading economic indicators has frustrated business analysts for decades, but perhaps not to quite the extent it has over the past year.

Persistent inflation, the Federal Reserve’s run of raising interest rates and sharply rising prices on consumer goods paint, on one hand, a bleak picture of an economy teetering on the edge of recession.

On the other hand, businesses have for the most part kept up a healthy pace of hiring workers and increasing wages in an effort to meet continuing demand.

The conflicting data has created confusion among many economists, but a new survey from PNC Bank suggests that small-business owners are paying little heed to the uncertainty and expressing optimism about the future of their enterprises.

The PNC Financial Services Group’s annual Small and Mid-size Business Owners Survey found that nearly six in 10 small and mid-sized business owners are highly optimistic about their companies’ prospects in the next six months.

Nearly two-thirds said they expected business conditions in the country to improve over the same time frame.

“I’d say those numbers really reflect the local sentiment as well,” said Clayton Whitson, president and CEO of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

“It is clear that inflationary pressures are easing. Businesses are finding it easier to obtain materials and supplies, inventory levels are returning to normal, and businesses are expecting inflation to slow,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist with the PNC Financial Services Group.

“But with the tight job market, labor costs remain a concern.”

The PNC survey also found that small-business owners are seeing relief in pricing pressures. Fewer than half of them anticipated an increase in supplier prices, and just 21% of them expected consumer prices to increase by more than 5% in the overall economy.

That sense of optimism marks the outlook among several local small-business owners as well.

“We’re very optimistic here. We’re feeling good,” said Gloria Dunaway-Harlett, co-owner of Seasons of the Heart Gift Shoppe on Anderson’s south side. “We’ve been busy. It’s been a good winter for us.”

Dunaway-Harlett said she and co-owner Nancy McCafferty were forced to raise prices in the second half of last year, but shipping costs have moderated, which means they’ll be able to pass some savings on to customers.

“I have met with all of my vendors for our winter sales, and they’ve come down in shipping,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of freight in this year from the same companies, and we haven’t had the price increase.”

Whitson said that an apparent dichotomy in many sets of economic data is at least in part a byproduct of the unprecedented shock waves that rippled through the economy during and immediately following the pandemic.

“I don’t know that our economy has ever seen anything like this period before,” he said.

“There aren’t models for what we’ve been through with the pandemic and the challenges that came from it and how we’ve overcome that.”

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