Chapel Hill: Opinion

Aaron Nelson: All have role to play in health of economy

Guest column

Last month your Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce held its annual Economic Outlook, and I am pleased to report that the outlook is good.

We, as an independent nonprofit membership organization, work to connect our more than 1,200 members to information and customers, advocate for local business interests and save members money. Our talented staff and volunteer board of directors work with employers and community partners to create an environment where business thrives. In service of that mission, we’ve asked our members annually since 2008 to tell us how the economy is impacting their business and their outlook on the future.

Our survey results are the compilation of feedback from a diverse set of 50 community employers who range in size from sole proprietors to very large employers and collectively employ thousands of local workers.

A few highlights:

▪ We asked “How has the current state of the economy effected your organization?” Only 22 percent of respondents said the economy was having a negative impact on their business, the lowest negative response in the survey’s history, down from nearly 55 percent in 2009, 52 percent in 2013, and 31 percent in 2014.

▪ We are pleased to report that 83 percent of members surveyed have a positive growth outlook (21 percent projecting “good growth” and 61 percent “moderate growth”) while only 2 percent said they expected a “decline” when asked, “How do you expect your organization to perform over the next 12 months?”

▪ 81 percent of employers surveyed expected to see organizational sales increase. Only 2 percent expect sales to decline, and 17 percent expect to see “no change” over the next 12 months.

▪ With respect to employment, projections are the most optimistic since we began asking that question in early 2012. Nearly 40 percent of employers said they have plans to add workers in the next twelve months, up from 30 percent reporting similar plans in 2014. Zero percent of survey respondents said they planned to reduce their workforce and 60 percent said they planned ‘no reduction or addition’ to their workforce.

Government attitudes

For the first time, we asked our members if they felt local government was supportive of our employers and our local economy.

▪ 64 percent of employers described their local government as being pro-business (14 percent indicated “very pro-business” and 50 percent said “somewhat pro-business”).

▪ 20 percent described local government as having a negative attitude toward business (16 percent indicated “somewhat anti-business” and 4 percent said “very anti-business”).

There is still work for government to do to improve how it works with and supports local employers, but our elected officials, economic development professionals and municipal and county staffs should take pride in these high marks.

Our members are as optimistic as ever, and they think that our community leaders are on their side. We must not rest and celebrate, but instead continue to make improvements in local government and continue to adopt policies and approve projects that support job growth and our broad economic and community success.

We can each play a role in keeping our economy healthy by choosing to buy local and by encouraging our leaders and the community organizations that support our businesses and work to ensure a bright and sustainable future.

Aaron Nelson is the CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and a 25-year Chapel Hill resident.