Fiscal brinksmanship in Washington and the halting economic recovery in Rhode Island frustrated local business leaders in 2012, but their plans for the year ahead reveal a latent current of optimism running through the region.
Never in the five-year history of the Providence Business News semiannual business survey have so many respondents had a positive outlook for the year ahead, plans to hire new workers or expand their facilities as they did at the end of 2012.
Their optimism is closely guarded: exasperation with Rhode Island’s progress compared to neighboring states is widespread and a lack of confidence in Ocean State economic policy is palpable.
Nevertheless, judging by their actions in 2012 and intentions for 2013, business leaders here expect economic conditions to continue their slow, upward trajectory in the near future, even if there is another Washington or Smith Hill debacle on the horizon.
“2012 was solid for us,” said Philip B. Barr, CEO of Trans-Tex LLC, in Cranston, which designs and prints color graphics on narrow-web fabric. “We had 12 percent sales growth and moved from Providence, where we were renting, into a new facility in Cranston that we bought and renovated. … We are pretty confident we are going to hold our own and that was enough to give us confidence to move into our own space.”
As in previous years, companies in the software and information technology sectors continued to grow in 2012 and seemed to carry the brightest outlook into 2013.
“I think everything is trending in a positive direction,” said Martin John King, founder and CEO of Gurnet Consulting, an information technology services provider in East Providence. “A fourth-quarter uptick in activity has really accelerated coming into 2013.”
As 2012 wound down, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee highlighted better-than-expected state revenue collections and some long-overdue improvement in employment figures as evidence his economic plan was working.
And in the 2012 survey results, state leaders will see further encouragement in the 33 percent of respondents who said their companies had increased employment in the previous quarter, compared with 31 percent over the summer and 25 percent last winter.
Perhaps even more encouraging, 45 percent said their companies planned to hire new employees in the next quarter, up from 43 percent last winter and 31 percent over the summer.
In what could be a good sign for commercial real estate and construction, 16 percent of companies surveyed said they planned to expand their facilities in the next quarter, the highest share in the survey’s history and better than the 11 percent last summer and last winter.