Opinion
Toasting the New Year
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Toasting the New Year

We have the solid foundation; now for some growth.

When presenting opening remarks during our Smart Solutions panel discussion in September, I jokingly told the audience that—even though it was unseasonably cold and Minnesota had experienced its first major frost of the season that same morning—it could rest assured that we would have at least one more month of mild autumn weather. How I knew this, I said, is because I saw dozens of geese flying north that morning. Not east or west on the way south, but north.

These comments were made in the context of all the reports and studies—and daily newspaper headlines—pounding us with negative estimates, projections, and findings, many of them no more substantive or accurate than my avian weather forecast.
As we head into 2012, we’re all wondering, what will this year bring? Given how so many thought 2011 would be much better than 2010—and it wasn’t—it’s hard to find anyone willing to stick his or her neck out and say anything with confidence. Plenty will say they remain cautiously optimistic, or hopefully guarded.

When you ask business leaders around Minnesota specific questions, though, such as whether they expect to increase head count or R&D spending during the next quarter, their answers paint a more confident picture of the state’s economy.

There’s a bedrock foundation of financial stability and slow but steady growth among Minnesota businesses, according to our quarterly economic indicator surveys. This research collects responses from 500 to 600 business executives throughout the state, and it continues to find healthy levels of hiring, R&D and capital spending, and productivity improvements.

It isn’t considered news to report “Minnesota Companies Growing at Slow Pace.” But hundreds of corporations are hiring, a little here, a little there. Collectively, the hiring and investing continues to fuel our economy.

Results from our next quarterly economic indicator survey, which asks business leaders to share with us their plans for January–March, will be reported in our twice-weekly Briefcase e-newsletter in mid-January, and then more extensively in the February issue of Twin Cities Business.

We anticipate seeing a slight increase in the percentage of businesses planning to hire during the first quarter, based in part on a surge in positive news reports in early December:

•    According to the December 13 Wall Street Journal, “a number of economists have increased estimates for fourth-quarter growth, pointing to stronger-than-expected readings on trade, consumer spending, and other gauges.” This pace was “much stronger than economists were expecting.”

•    That same edition of the WSJ reported the French Champagne industry was preparing for a bumper holiday season, “a significant recovery from just two years ago.” Sales were up 15 percent from a year earlier, and on the way to possibly tying the record 339 million bottles shipped in 2007.

•    Temp-staffing firm Manpower Group reported in December that 15 percent of 220 Twin Cities-area employers say they plan to add jobs during the first quarter of 2012. Factoring in others who plan to reduce head count during the same period, the survey projects net job growth of 7 percent compared with only 4 percent in the same period a year earlier.

•    In October, Americans’ incomes rose by the largest factor in seven months.

•    The number of houses listed for sale in the Twin Cities metropolitan area during November plunged 24 percent from a year earlier—the lowest inventory level since the start of 2005. Meanwhile, there were 3,321 pending sales in November—30 percent more than a year ago.

•    The National Federation of Independent Business reports that its index of small-business optimism increased for the third consecutive month in November. It also found more firms plan to hire in the near future.

•    The American Staffing Association’s index of temporary and contract employment continued to drop during November. Temporary employment tends to decrease when employers hire temp workers or others into permanent positions.

•    The U.S. job market is improving. Job gains averaged 143,000 per month September through November, compared with an average of 84,000 per month in the previous three months.

Here’s hoping the positive trends continue.

Did You Know?

Some of you may not have known about our quarterly economic survey. It’s the only statewide survey of its kind and it covers all industries and sizes of companies. You can learn more about it in next month’s issue.

Another “Did You Know” involves our Business Information Guide, The B.I.G. Book, an annual (published in December) compilation of rankings, rosters, and resources covering the entire state. It’s the go-to source for readers looking to build or expand their business, hone in on a target market, size up the competition, or get up to speed with a particular company or industry.

Other list books send out a survey or two and include whomever replies until the total reaches 25. We’re sticklers for accuracy, with a team that works all year to ensure each line is precise and current. If you’re serious about your research, this is the book for you.

One last “Did You Know” is about  our signature events. In addition to the September panel discussion mentioned earlier, we produced events last July, October, and November. And coming up January 12, we have our Small-Business Success Stories event.

Though our articles deliver core insights, such as in our Small-Business Success Stories feature, some of the best content associated with such a project can be found only at its related event, when the introductory and acceptance speeches are made. I know, you’re thinking, “Egads, acceptance speeches?” I did too, before I started attending the events and found their quality to be exceptional. To see what I mean, visit tcbmag.com/halloffame/index. You’ll see and hear insights from leaders such as HealthPartners CEO Mary Brainerd and Arctic Cat Chairman Christopher Twomey, who were inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame last July.
 
I encourage you to join me at our events—starting this month—not just for the leaders you’ll meet and hear from while there, but for the interesting professionals and compelling networking opportunities you’ll find at your table. And for those times you can’t make it, we’re working to have highlights available through our Web site.

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