Recession still haunts employers, survey says

- Last modified: September 26, 2013 at 10:22 AM

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Pennsylvania’s job creators continue to have positive perceptions about Pennsylvania’s business friendliness. However, business leaders remain hesitant to commit to more hiring or making capital investments in their companies for the foreseeable future because of lingering concerns about the economy and rising health care costs.

Those are some of the key takeaways from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry's 23rd Annual Pennsylvania Economic Survey, the results of which were unveiled at a Capitol news conference.

Conducted by Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Polling and Research, this year's survey was a partnership with the Department of Business and The High Center for Family Business at Elizabethtown College, which sought to gauge the health of family businesses in Pennsylvania and issues of importance to this segment of the business community.

Pennsylvania Chamber President Gene Barr said the results of the survey in large part mirror the results of last year's poll, although employers do express slightly higher levels of optimism in the 2013 survey, including the area of past and future sales growth.

Nearly one in four (or 24 percent) believe the business climate in the Keystone State has gotten better in the past 12 months, up slightly from last year. This represents the highest level reported in more than six years of surveys since before the 2008-09 recession began.

However, the same top concerns remain.

Susquehanna Polling and Research President Jim Lee said while it is a good sign that the percent of employers who say the economy has gotten worse is down, it is still the "single most important problem" facing companies today – higher than any other single issue cited.

"This is strong evidence that the recession still haunts many employers," he said.

As a result, 80 percent of employers surveyed do not plan to hire over the next 12 months or will keep their workforces the same; and only 13 percent expect to make "major" investments in technology or equipment – again far below levels seen prior to the recession when it was not uncommon to see one third of employers or even more plan for investments.

"It is clear that uncertainty is leading job creators to hold back on growing their business and hiring," Barr said.

Another top concern for job creators – rising health care costs, with 79 percent of respondents reporting health insurance premium increases over the past year.

Related to this, a large number (45 percent) of employers also cited higher workers' compensation premiums over the past year. Medical costs are driving workers compensation rates, which is why the Pennsylvania Chamber is backing reform legislation (Pennsylvania House Bill 1636) aimed at mitigating this impact.

In a new workforce development question, the lack of hard skills (proper training, education, etc.) and soft skills (work ethic, communications, punctuality) were cited as the most common problems when interviewing job applicants.

For complete survey results, visit www.pachamber.org.

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