Survey Measures MidSized Firms Confidence

    GRAND RAPIDS — In the past few months businesses have been feeling the effects of Sept. 11 as well as an economic downturn in all areas of business. It is not only the large corporations and Fortune 500 companies that are feeling the hit, even though their opinions may often be voiced the loudest.

    In conjunction with Plante & Moran and Grand Valley State University, the Grand Rapids Business Journal recently conducted a survey profiling mid-sized businesses to determine the effects of Sept. 11 as well as expectations for the first two quarters of 2002. Mid-sized businesses were defined by Plante & Moran’s Chris Montague as businesses with revenues below $50 million.

     “We wanted to take a look at things relating to how businesses thought life would be in 2002 and after Sept. 11,” Montague said. “And I suspect that we will find that they will be dealing with many of the same issues: slowdown of customer orders, slowdown in sales, heightened security issues, having to deal with controlling costs, reducing costs and trying to find ways to do that.”

    “It was important to keep the two issues separate because we did not want the businesses to respond just in regard to the terrorist attacks, but to react on what they see shaping up regardless of the attacks,” said Carole Valade-Copenhaver, editor of Grand Rapids Business Journal. “Then we also wanted to see how the events of Sept. 11 were shaping their business and how it will affect human resources, logistics, the transport of goods and travel plans.”

    Montague said he also believes that many of the concerns mid-sized businesses are facing and will face in 2002 are the same problems larger corporations are facing.

    Valade-Copenhaver expects that based on what public companies in the area are reporting, the businesses surveyed will report a slowdown, but not as dramatic as some fear.

    Representatives from the Business Journal, Plante & Moran, GVSU and Seyferth Spaulding Tennyson Inc. created the survey. In framing the 15 questions, ranging from “Compared to 2001, how much better or worse do you expect 2002 to be for your company?” and “As a result of Sept. 11, have you made any business concessions toward your customers?” to “How helpful will President Bush’s economic stimulus package be to your business?” the survey focuses mainly on manufacturing and other commercial companies.

    “We stayed away from retail business because it is so unique and it is so season oriented,” said Montague.

    “By surveying permanent manufacturing companies and other commercial businesses, we were able to tailor our questions to accommodate those types of businesses.”

    Montague added that the survey went through several drafts and refinements before businesses were called to answer the questions. Alex Nesterenko, dean of the school of communications at GVSU, and his staff contacted 100 businesses during the last two weeks of October and the first week of November that met the mid-sized business qualifications.

    “It’s going to be interesting to have some data on that segment of the economy that I really view as the backbone of the economic base in this area, and hopefully that data will really help the organizations,” Montague said. “At a minimum I would hope it would give those businesses some perspective on how they are doing in relation to other organizations.”

    The results and analysis will be announced at a press conference at Plante & Moran at 10 a.m. on Nov. 19.

    In the results and analysis, West Michigan will naturally be compared to other areas of the nation and what other mid-sized businesses are going through there. In a recent poll, Employment Law Alliance’s (ELA) “America at Work” poll showed that the American worker is generally confident but extremely anxious when it comes to job security.

    According to the poll, 62 percent are “very confident” employers are doing everything possible to avoid layoffs, while only 21 percent expressed only “some confidence.” Among those whose companies are in the midst of layoffs, 83 percent do not believe that their employer is using the current crisis environment as an excuse to impose or accelerate layoffs.

    “There has been so much conflicting data coming in, in regard to what mid-sized businesses are going through because of the recent terrorist attacks, that we decided to go right to the source for the most accurate report,” Valade-Copenhaver said. “And it is for that reason that we were so specific about separating Sept. 11 from what businesses see shaking out in the first two quarters of 2002, and what the business plan will be.”  

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