Optimistic Outlook for Business in 2014, REALLY?

Jessica SarterSmall Business

In a recent survey of 5000 CEOs of the fastest-growing companies in the United States, 82% of those surveyed expressed “good to excellent” prospects for increased growth in 2014.   Additionally, the same CEOs said they anticipated more employee hiring as well as an increase in the amount of goods and services sold.  “I think the economy’s really good”, says Tom Gimbel, founder LaSalle Network, an 85-employee company providing staffing services in the Chicago area (2013 Inc. 5000 Conference).  But this optimism is being tempered by these same businesses by forces outside their control, forces that they say puts a cloud over all businesses, large and small, throughout the country.

“Why so worried? Gridlock in Washington, the Affordable Care Act, and weak-kneed consumers top the list. Those things are all related, and together they produce high-water levels of uncertainty. After all, who wants to take a chance on a big new investment when the stock market could plummet 1,000 points because of gamesmanship in Washington”, describes Kimberly Weisul in her article, “The State of Small Biz in 2014? The Sky’s The Limit Sort of”.   Then there is the uncertainty of competition in China, emerging markets, the War in Afghanistan and homeland security, among others.

So what is the outlook for business in 2014?  What can you as the business owner expect in the coming year?  The truthful answer is—no one really knows.  But let us look at what we do know and make some intelligent conclusions from the data we have.  First, the housing crisis appears to be over, with the S&P Case/Shiller index of housing prices up 11% in the 12-month period ended June 2013.  Since about one-sixth of small businesses are in housing and construction related fields (plumbers, electricians, carpenters, hardware stores, etc.), that’s good news for small business. And small business owners typically tap the equity in their homes for business purposes such as obtaining a loan for working capital, expansion or otherwise (see Barlow Research Associates), making access to capital easier.  While availability of business credit has been tight since 2008, SBA figures shows year-to-date loan volume up 15% (before the government shutdown) compared with 2012.  All good news for businesses and their owners. With the economic outlook appearing fundamentally solid, is economic prosperity on its way in 2014.  This all depends on whether you view the world as the “glass is half-full” or the “glass is half-empty”—that is up to you. Neither answer is right or wrong.