A majority of businesses reported increases in sales and profits, hiring more employees and expectations for future growth in a recent survey by the East Central Regional Development Commission.
Local businesses in the Kanabec, Isanti, Chisago, Mille Lacs and Pine counties were surveyed in the fall of 2017 as part of the ECRDC’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. The online survey was completed by 106 businesses in the five-county region. The results show indications of the area’s current business climate and economic conditions.
According to an ECRDC press release, the survey responses were predominantly upbeat, telling of stable and growing economic conditions and a positive outlook for the future.
When asked about sales, 39 percent of respondents reported increasing sales; 45 percent said sales were stable; 16 percent said sales were decreasing. Reports about profits followed a similar pattern. Most respondents said their business had hired or maintained the same number of employees in the past two years. Fourteen percent reported decreases.
A common concern for businesses responding to the survey is difficulty finding qualified employees.
More than 62 percent of respondents said they had difficulty recruiting qualified employees.
The regional unemployment rate for October 2017, the time this survey was being undertaken, was 2.9 percent in East Central Minnesota, which is near or at historic lows. This compares to a seasonal adjusted unemployment rate of 3.3 percent for the state of Minnesota and 4.1 percent in the U.S. for the same time period.
Jordan Zeller, planner in the Economic Development department of the ECRDC said that for him, the survey confirmed several key points about local business. “The backbone of the regional economy is small business,” he said. A large portion of survey respondents were from businesses with between 1-5 employees.
Concerning to him was the number of employers who struggled to find qualified employees in all areas, whether it be highly skilled or just general labor. Zeller said the solution might lie in continued emphasis on training programs, apprenticeships and partnerships between businesses and schools.
Another noteworthy response included in the survey was about the business’s overall opinion of their community. A large majority of businesses (88.6 percent) reported that their community was a fair or excellent place to conduct business. Nearly all (99 percent) reported that their community was a fair or excellent place to live.
For more information about the ECRDC or for the full survey results, visit www.ecrdc.org.
Kirsten Faurie is the editor of the Kanabec County Times.