Wary CT businesses keep job growth modest

Connecticut businesses plan modest job growth in the coming year, despite their wariness about the economy and federal health care reform, according to the latest annual survey of companies.

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association and BlumShapiro consulting released the 2013 Survey of Connecticut Businesses on Friday, also reporting that manufacturers are planning some of the most growth — but keep struggling to find skilled workers.

“Connecticut is fortunate to have a wide array of businesses that can be competitive,” CBIA President and CEO John R. Rathgeber said. “Many states recognize this and are recruiting Connecticut companies to make investments in their locales.”

Given that, Rathgeber added, “We must redouble our efforts to make our state the best place for businesses to grow and create good jobs. If we fail to do that, our future will not be as bright as it should be for future generations.”

BlumShapiro reached out to about 5,000 companies, with about 7.5 percent responding to the 2013 survey, according to Chief Marketing Officer Thomas A. DeVitto. Typical participation rates range from 7 percent to 10 percent.

Nearly half of those participating rated economic conditions for their business as below average and while 56 percent expect to record a net profit in 2013, that’s down from 59 percent in 2012, the survey found.

And nearly two-thirds of those surveyed were somewhat or very pessimistic that “Connecticut will overcome its problems and have a vibrant, growing economy.”

The state economy was the single-greatest concern cited by 34 percent of respondents, followed by: national economic uncertainty, 21 percent; tax burden, 14 percent; national health care reform, 11 percent; and regulatory compliance costs, 9 percent.

“We have a lot of companies out there that have a lot of frustration and angst,” particularly about Obamacare and its potential impact on the cost of employee health coverage, DeVitto said. “Because of the uncertainty, a lot of companies are planning for the worst.”

For some firms, that means postponing hiring, or adding temporary staff only, he said. For others it means reducing the quality of employee health coverage.

And 30 percent of businesses say they’ve been approached within the past five years about relocating to another state — 20 percent in the last year alone. Most of those inquiries, DeVitto said, come from officials in North or South Carolina, Florida, Virginia or Texas.

Still, about 63 percent of businesses reported making considerable investments in technology over the past 12 months.

And 47 percent of companies said they plan to hire new workers in 2014, up from 43 percent this year, the survey found.

Manufacturers were particularly optimistic. The survey found that 56 percent plan to add jobs in 2014, up from 48 percent this year.

DeVitto noted that two-thirds of companies reported problems finding qualified workers to fill jobs, particularly those firms seeking to fill mid-level professional positions.

DeVitto also praised Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration for some of its efforts to grow jobs, including investments in bioscience research and an expansion of precision manufacturing job training at the community college level.

“Governor Malloy has long recognized the need for a more qualified workforce,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said.

Besides the initiatives DeVitto cited, Doba also noted that the administration’s First Five program has provided incentives for large companies looking to add hundreds of jobs.

Also this spring, the governor and legislature launched Next Generation Connecticut, a 10-year, multibillion-dollar initiative to expand engineering, technology and mathematics programs at the University of Connecticut. The project is expected to boost enrollment in these academic programs by about 30 percent.

Doba called the increased hiring projections, particularly those in manufacturing, “a really positive sign” and said the Next Generation project has great potential “to invigorate the state’s workforce.

“Clearly we still have some ground to cover in the battle to change perceptions — which took a long time to create and are going to take some time to undo. But that is what this governor has made a priority. He has let everyone know he is going to compete for every single job.”

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