Northwest Connecticut Economy on Cusp of Recovery; Workforce Factors Are Key

Nearly 60 percent of businesses in northwest Connecticut project an increase in total sales revenue in 2015, according to a new survey, although fewer than half of the businesses surveyed (46 percent) anticipate higher pre-tax profits next year. The 2014 Survey of Northwest Connecticut Businesses, conducted by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) and the Chamber of Commerce of Northwest Connecticut, “paints a picture of a regional economy that is recovering but also constrained by rising costs and workforce challenges,” according to the organizations.NW Chamber study

Two-thirds of northwest Connecticut businesses (67%) surveyed are somewhat or very concerned about the area’s aging population, in terms of maintaining an adequate workforce. That’s up 11 percentage points from 2012, when the survey was last conducted. Business leaders predicted the skills most in demand will be industry-specific in medical, utilities, manufacturing, and construction fields (37%) and computer/IT skills (28%).

Businesses are fairly evenly divided on the greatest advantage to doing business in northwest Connecticut, identifying the region’s proximity to New York, Boston, and Springfield markets and amenities (22%); local environment (17%); supportive chamber of commerce (14%); active local banks (11%); and arts, culture, and entertainment opportunities (10%).

While 36% say they will have more employees next year, nine percent anticipate having fewer employees, and the majority (55%) expect no change in the size of their workforce.  Top economic priorities are, in order, growing the local manufacturing base, regional collaboration to attract business investment, and retaining a skilled workforce. The cost of living (cited by 43% of executives surveyed) is considered to be the single greatest disadvantage. Three leading issues two years ago, fell from the issues of most concern now: credit availability, healthcare costs, and tight marketing budgets.priorities chart

By a ratio of 2:1, employers in northwestern Connecticut believe that schools in their area—and throughout the state—adequately prepare workers for entry-level jobs, according to the survey. Although confidence in Connecticut’s education system prepagingaring workers for higher-level jobs is not quite as strong, the majority of respondents nonetheless believe Connecticut schools and colleges provide an adequate education for mid-level employees (59% of employers surveyed); management workers (61% of employers); and executive-level employees (58%).

Nearly 200 companies, with an average of 55 employees and representing a variety of sectors participated in the survey, and their responses reflected dramatic changes in recent years in the way in which businesses are marketed to potential customers. While quality broadband is viewed as an issue for one-third of businesses surveyed, 56 percent use social media to market their products and services (and 60 percent do other web marketing)—edging out print advertisements (54 percent of businesses). Radio, billboards, sales representatives, and word of mouth are other key components of the marketing mix, the survey found.

The report concludes that “with GDP data and other indicators showing we are on the cusp of a stronger economic upswing, pressure on hiring has increased to meet demand.”   Noting the “increasing numbers of retirees, Northwestern Connecticut’s workforce challenges, which have always been serious, are now critical,” the report emphasizes.