Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:41 pm
Members of the Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE) board of directors are optimistic about the year ahead for their own companies, but they are much more divided about the direction of the regional economy in 2007, according to a new survey by Small Business Times.
SBT received survey responses from 21 board members of COSBE, which is an affiliate organization of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce (MMAC).
All of the 21 respondents are predicting gains in revenues for their companies in 2007 (see accompanying chart).
They are attributing their optimism to several factors, including improved technology, a skilled workforce, pending acquisitions and new offices, expanded product lines, tax cuts, new projects and enhanced customer service.
However, when asked to evaluate the year ahead for the regional economy, 11 of the respondents say they see the area slipping, going sideways or they’re not certain.
“The local economic growth in recent years was fueled by real estate, both commercial and residential. Both are slowing dramatically in 2007, which spells a slowdown for the 2007 overall economy,” said Christopher Rebholz, president and chief executive officer of Christopher Morgan LLC in New Berlin.
“Perhaps sideways. My love of southeastern Wisconsin makes me want to be optimistic! There are many positive initiatives underway,” said Mary Scheibel, partner at Scheibel Halaska Inc. in Milwaukee. “Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, because the challenges that lie ahead make it difficult to see the tremendous progress being made. That being said, I am concerned that companies may not be investing in initiatives that will improve their ability to win in an increasingly challenging market. Companies wait because they are risk-adverse, when sometimes the greatest risk is waiting.”
Others foresee sporadic growth in the local economy.
“Primarily up, but some segments continue obsoletion,” said Nancy Hernandez, president at Abrazo Multicultural Marketing in Milwaukee.
Several small business executives say their companies are challenged by a tight skilled labor force, as more baby boomers retire, and the generation behind them is smaller and less experienced.
“Yes, this has been a problem in our industry. I think we are handling it better by recruiting engineers from the outside,” said Suresh Thankavel, president of Wisdom InfoTech Ltd. in Brookfield.
Randi Becker, vice president at The Mark Travel Corp. said the Milwaukee company is dealing with the labor shortage by “aggressively recruiting locally and nationally, as well as increasing training programs, workplace wellness initiatives, tuition reimbursement, internship presence and competitive benefits.”
“In the professional services area, there is a continued shortage of labor,” said Barbara Ecklond, partner at Suby Von Haden & Associates S.C. in Brookfield. “We are responding by continually evaluating the way we treat and compensate our employees in order to remain an employer of choice amongst our competitors.”
Some executives see other obstacles on the horizon for the region’s small businesses.
“Big companies have a ‘profit at all costs’ mentality that transcends anything I’ve seen in the last 30 years. Ethics are disappearing, and it will kill small business if not stopped,” said Russell Gnant, president of Spectrum Digital Services LLC in Hartland.
Others see coinciding challenges and opportunities.
“The aging demographic of the baby boomers will present many challenges. We are trying to find business opportunities that fit well with the 50- to 70-year-old age group,” said John Howman, president of Raffel Comfort Sciences LLC in Cedarburg.
“I think it is important for readers to recognize the commitment that’s needed from all of us to ensure the vitality and growth of southeastern Wisconsin,” Sheibel said. “I would encourage everyone to support the MMAC in moving the Milwaukee 7 initiative forward. We need to break down our barriers and collectively support those organizations who are working with the MMAC for the greater good of the region.”