Business Leaders Remain Optimistic On Economy

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(Host) Vermont’s top business executives are "cautiously optimistic" that the state’s economy will continue to grow at a slow but steady pace over the next few years.

The group is forecasting an increase in sales and hiring over the next 12 months.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The Vermont Business Roundtable is comprised of 115 CEOs of the state’s largest employers.

Bill Stritzler is the past chairman of the Roundtable and is currently the managing director of the Smuggler’s Notch Ski area.

He says a new survey of the Roundtable’s members shows that roughly 36 percent expect to hire additional employees in the coming year, 53 percent project no change and 11 percent think they’ll reduce their workforce.

Stritzler says that while these numbers reflect a small decline from the last quarter, they are still way ahead of where they were two years ago:

(Stritzler) "I think you have to put it into perspective of where it was a couple of years ago compared to what the CEOs are saying today. It’s true that compared to the last report there’s not the same kind of dramatic increase but nevertheless I think staying steady given where we were and the improvement that we saw a half a year ago that staying steady is ok."

(Kinzel) Stritzler says he’s encouraged that a large number of CEOs expect their corporate sales will increase over the next year:

(Stritzler) "We’re showing a fairly significant expected increase in sales. Around 62 percent of the business mangers are saying that they expect sales to increase and that often precedes capital investment."

(Kinzel) And when the time comes to borrow money for capital investments, Stritzler thinks companies with strong ties to Vermont banks will be in the best position to expand:

(Stritzler) "As I talk to chief executives it depends upon whether you’re working with a local bank or a national bank.  The word I get is that the national banks are pretty slow and difficult but if you’ve established a working relationship with your local bank over a period of time it’s a completely different story and there seems to be more flexibility."

(Kinzel) Stritzler says the key for many businesses, including his own, is stronger consumer confidence. He says the outcome of talks in Washington to increase the nation’s debt ceiling could be a huge influence on consumer confidence in the future.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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