By B.C. Manion
A recent survey conducted by the Pasco Economic Development Council offers a glimpse into short-term plans of hundreds of companies operating in the county.
The voluntary survey, which was completed during a period of months by representatives of about 340 businesses, posed a number of questions to provide a snapshot of current plans for area business.
It asked businesses whether they plan to have more, fewer or the same number of employees. It also inquired about expansion plans, in terms of both space and new products or services, and about the outlook for capital equipment purchases and investment in training. And, it asked companies to identify how much of their trade comes from outside of Pasco.
In terms of employment, the vast majority of survey respondents expected to remain steady, with 68 percent responding they intend to remain at the same employment level.
However, 27 percent of the companies responding said they expect to increase employment, and fewer than 5 percent expect to trim staff.
On the capital equipment front, more than 71 percent of responding companies said they don’t anticipate action in that area; the remaining 29 percent did.
When it comes to physical plants, the vast majority of companies, nearly 82 percent, report they do not anticipate needing larger facilities.
Although most employers reported they’re not planning hiring sprees, significant equipment purchases or a need for larger quarters, 60 percent are planning to launch new products or services during the next two years.
A need for training also seems to be on business leaders’ minds. Of those surveyed, nearly 57 percent said they plan to allocate funds for increasing workers’ skills in 2012.
John Hagen, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said the survey is useful on a number of fronts.
He said the data was collected from companies across Pasco, and he credited chambers of commerce across the county for helping to make that happen.
That’s a good sign for future ventures involving partnerships with the chambers, Hagen said. “I think it bodes well to do other projects like that.”
One bit of positive news emerging from the survey is 27 percent of the participating companies expect to add employees.
Hagen interprets that finding this way: “Hey, we’re turning the corner here, slow, but sure.”
Hagen said it’s not unusual for companies to be reluctant about hiring after a recession. They tend to wait until they feel the economy is on more solid ground, he added.
Roughly three-quarters of the survey participants reported they have no plans to purchase capital equipment during the next two years, but the news on that front isn’t entirely negative. About 100 companies reported they do plan to invest in capital equipment.
Hagen suspects hiring and capital purchases will pick up if businesses find a market for their product and service initiatives.
Hagen also said the interest in companies investing in training signals that they are trying to maximize the potential and productivity of existing staff.
Employees in today’s workforce must be more skilled than their counterparts of the past, Hagen said.
“It’s no revelation,” Hagen said. “The bar is moving up nationally. We see that we’ve got to step up.”
The development council has been working with various partners on a number of initiatives to help close the gap between the skills potential employees have and those employers need.
In addition to getting a pulse on what’s happening with the local economy, the survey also looked at where Pasco companies are doing business.
Hagen said his organization asked that question because it’s important for his group to work with companies to increase their business outside of the county, or to help those that haven’t sold products or services outside of Pasco to expand their reach.
When services and products offered by local companies are purchased beyond the county lines, it increases the size of Pasco’s economic pie, Hagen said.
The more revenue that streams in, the bigger the pie becomes and the more everyone in the county benefits, Hagen said. The smaller the pie, the smaller the slices for everyone.
Hagen thinks the prospects are bright for Pasco.
“There’s really a lot of untapped potential,” Hagen said, noting the vast tracts of land available for development and the excellent road system that provides easy access to many areas within Pasco.