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National and local small business owners show strong economic confidence

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Trade wars. Brexit. There’s plenty to be nervous about in the global economy.

But, not everyone is worrying apparently, at least not in one of the economy’s most important areas — small business.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is out with its third quarter Small Business Index and it’s showing employers are experiencing high levels of confidence in their state and local economies and about their own financial future.

According to the report, which is put out in cooperation with MetLife, the index overall score increased this quarter to 70.7, up two percentage points from the second quarter, placing the index at its highest number since it was started.

That means that nearly 71 percent of U.S. small business owners currently have a positive outlook on their companies’ financial future and business environment.

But what do small businesses in the Greater Lehigh Valley think?

John Hayes, chair of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said most small business owners he’s spoken with express some “cautious optimism” for the overall and local economies, but they feel there is reason to worry.

He said many seem to believe an economic downturn or recession is imminent.

“The people I have talked to in the small business community in the Lehigh Valley are a little more cautious,” Hayes said. “Everyone’s simply expecting a slowdown because we’re due.”

In Reading, Pamela Shupp, executive vice president and COO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, said small business is currently where the bright spot is the Berks-area economy.

“Our Berks small businesses are continuing plans for growth and lead the way in requests for expansion assistance,” Shupp said.

To the north, Marlyn Kissner, executive vice president with the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development, said she too is seeing great activity among the region’s small businesses.

“Once a month, the Small Business Development Center at Wilkes University meets with prospective business owners at our office in Lehighton and the days are booked solid,” Kissner said.

U.S. Chamber officials said small business is where they want to see strength.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy,” said Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a release. “It’s important that we provide them with a sense of certainty and work towards finding solutions that enable business growth and create an environment where Main Street businesses can continue to thrive.”

Overall, though, local business leaders said they believe the region can withstand a global or national downturn, largely due to its ability to protect itself from many of the global market trends.

“We’re in a great geographic location,” said Hayes. “We have the benefit of pure location, which helped us weather the last downturn. We’re a logistics center.”

He said construction remains a strong driver of the economy in the Greater Lehigh Valley, which is a good core for a strong economy because it impacts so many different industries from the retail and wholesale of building products to manufacturing and real estate.

Shupp said besides small business, other aspects of the Berks economy remain solid.

“Our manufacturing sector remains steady as it responds to and develops strategies for attracting skilled workers,” she said.

And those local results add up.

“Strong local economies have a ripple effect, and create stronger state, regional, and national economies,” said Jessica Moser, senior vice president and head of MetLife’s Group Benefits Small & Specialty Business organization in a release. “Increased small business confidence will allow them to continue to hire and to invest in their businesses, which ultimately helps everyone.”

The results of the MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index were from a survey of 1,000 small business owners. The Index is part of a multiyear collaboration by MetLife and the U.S. Chamber to elevate the voice of America’s small business owners and highlight the important role they play in the nation’s economy.

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