Rhode Island’s economic recovery is now moving at a pace too slow for many local business leaders to perceive it.
By most measures, the state, like the country, is in a better position than it was three years ago or last summer. But considering the depths Rhode Island is rising from, that’s not saying much. And the further businesses are removed from the crash of 2008, the weaker and more disappointing that progress seems.
Even in Ocean State companies that are growing – and in previously moribund markets showing signs of life – like real estate – a larger pessimism about the state clouds its future.
That pessimism has itself become a subject of frustration, blamed by community leaders and industry stakeholders for a self-defeating feedback loop preventing the local economy from gaining momentum.
And it is evident in the responses from company executives and owners in Providence Business News’ 2012 summer survey, which showed that the stirrings of optimism evident at the start of the year were gone by August. The survey was sent to 1,601 businesses.
Asked for their outlook on the Rhode Island economy a year from now, only 38.3 percent of the 175 businesspeople who responded said they expected any improvement compared with 47.9 percent last winter and more than half in the winter of 2010.
An unexpectedly poor spring and early summer appear to have contributed to the glum mood, as just 50.3 percent of businesses said their current activity had increased from the previous quarter, down 4 percentage points from the winter and 5 percentage points from last summer.
“This summer was difficult, a more severe slowdown than in the past, although we are busy right now,” said Paul Carroll, president of American Printing in East Providence. “Most of my business is coming from out of state … Massachusetts is far superior to Rhode Island.”
Perhaps as a result of the slow summer, 62 percent of respondents said they expected their business to be in a better position a year from now than this year, a decline of 3.3 percentage points from the winter survey.
“I can definitely feel deep caution and frustration and am eagerly waiting for things to change,” said April Williams, president of North Star Marketing Inc. in North Kingstown, which works primarily in the business-to-business market. “Businesses are cautiously optimistic, but across the board, everyone is looking at budgets. Sadly, the more optimistic companies are outside Rhode Island.”
Timing could go some way to explaining the sense of anxiety.
The 2012 election season has brought no shortage of American-decline narratives, mudslinging and anxiety about the direction of the country.