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Lucas Group

The Lucas Group SMB Job Generation Outlook is an innovative approach to traditional hiring and employment surveys, gauging both recent and planned activity in the United States small to mid-sized business market. This, our second quarter national survey of SMB presidents and CEOs, examines executivelevel perspectives on critical issues facing the American SMB marketplace, including economic developments, employment trends, legislative initiatives, political environments, and the tangible impact these issues have on business and employment planning.

Conducted in coordination with Polaris Marketing Research and Dr. Goutam Challagalla, Associate Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology College of Business, the SMB Job Generation Outlook is the only economic and employment survey that captures timely trends—directly from the visions and priorities of the highest executive offices.

Quantitative results and key findings from the SMB Job Generation Outlook survey were analyzed, and through a series of graphs and charts, the statistical relationship of trends in the small to mid-sized business market has been illustrated. A detailed narrative of the data analysis follows the illustrations on page 9.

Lucas Group will continue the SMB Job Generation Outlook survey on a quarterly basis via online surveys with invited top executives from a variety of SMBs around the country and across industry segments.

The Lucas Group survey is set to become the outlook standard for the American SMB market, heralded in American discourse as the jobs engine for economic revitalization.

We encourage you to retain this report as a reference point. Consider how this information may impact you— now and throughout the year. As always, please feel free to contact us. We welcome your questions and feedback.

Thank you for your interest in this important analysis of the SMB economic and employment outlook across major industries and around the nation in Q1 2013.


With a continued focus exclusively on principles at each company, we expanded our outreach in the Q1 survey to include the title of “business owner”. Each of our 101 respondents was a president,
CEO or business owner.

Almost one-half of our respondents reported annual revenue in 2012 at $50-$150 million. Slightly more (51 percent) reported revenue greater than $150 million.

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Strong first quarter respondent optimism for job growth at their own companies modestly grew in Q1 and optimism for overall U.S. job growth prospects grew by an even larger percentage. Slightly more than 58 percent were very or somewhat optimistic about their company’s employment growth prospects, up from 51 percent in Q4 2012. But there was almost a 20 point jump in their optimism for national job growth with 47 percent optimistic, compared to only 28 percent in Q4 2012.

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The same pattern emerged in questions about the economic prospects for their companies and the nation as a whole. Almost three-quarters of the respondents (71 percent) were somewhat or very optimistic about the economic prospects of their own companies and only 13 percent were pessimistic.

As with job prospects, these SMB leaders are also bullish on the national economy. This quarter, more than half (54 percent) are somewhat or very optimistic about the nation’s economic prospects, as compared to 37 percent in Q4 2012. Further, Q1 pessimism was half what it was last quarter, with only 26 percent feeling pessimistic about the national economy, compared to 49 percent in Q4 2012.

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Nevertheless, individual company growth positioning diminished this quarter compared to last. A sizeable percentage (40 percent) see their companies as being in a position to grow, but that is down sharply from the 57 percent who considered their companies in growth mode in Q4 2012. “Controlled retrenchment” saw the greatest increase in Q1 survey responses, with 19 percent currently characterizing their companies in this manner, versus only 6 percent in Q4 2012.

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SMB leaders continue to embrace the oft-repeated adage that SMBs are the job generators of the U.S. economy. Only 3 percent of respondents don’t agree with that statement. More than threequarters believe that their companies are job generators as well, almost identical to Q4 2012.

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The perceived negative impact of the Affordable Care Act oncSMBs diminished in Q1 with 30 percent believing that it will have no impact, a notable rise from the 21 percent who thought so in the first quarter. Sixty-one percent percent believe that it will adversely impact them, down from the 67 percent in Q4 2012. Interestingly, those who believe that it will have a positive impact also declined from 11 percent in Q4 2012 to 9 percent in Q1.

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SMB leaders are considerably less pessimistic about Washington partisanship than they were in Q4 2012. While 47 percent stated being very pessimistic in Q1 about bipartisan cooperation at the national level, that is down from 62 percent in Q4 2012. The percentage of SMB leaders who described themselves as being either somewhat or very optimistic doubled from 8 percent in Q4 2012 to 16 percent in Q1.

As with last quarter, SMB leaders are more confident in statelevel bipartisanship than national cooperation, with 22 percent somewhat or very optimistic (as compared to only 16 percent at the national level) and 28 percent very pessimistic. As with the federal government, ambivalence about bipartisan prospects also increased at the state level, with 28 percent not choosing either emotion, compared to 19 percent last quarter.

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The Q4 2012 survey occurred before President Obama’s State of the Union address in January so it did not cover his proposal to increase the federal minimum wage. Posed in the Q1 survey, no other issue drew such a sharp response.

SMB leaders are not supportive. Seven percent indicated that they would not stay in business if the wage increase passed and 34 percent will reduce or eliminate all plans to hire additional workers. Almost one-third (29 percent) said that they would increase their prices to offset the wage increase. Only 1 percent of SMB leaders said that increasing minimum wage would have no impact on their businesses.

Most notably, half of the respondents presented a “Don’t know” answer to the survey question regarding the impact of a minimum wage increase to $9.00 an hour would have on their SMB company.

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Another new survey question this quarter visibly depicts the broader national debate over immigration reform. SMB respondents support reform for high-demand skilled workers but not for the larger population of immigrants. More than half (55 percent) agree the U.S. should ease immigration constraints for skilled workers in IT, science, and other high-demand fields. Only 36 percent, however, support easing immigration requirements for all immigrants. Slightly more (38 percent) respondents support easing requirements for immigrants already living in the United States. Higher rates of respondents do not support the easing of requirements for either population (48 percent and 44 percent, respectively).

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The percentage of SMBs expecting Baby Boomer retirements in 2013 ticked up slightly in Q1. Last quarter, almost 80 percent anticipated that less than 5 percent of their workforce would retire this year. This quarter, that’s dropped appreciably to only two-thirds of the respondents. However, more think that a larger percentage of their workers will retire. Almost 15 percent believe that more than 10 percent of their workforce will retire this year, double the volume that anticipated that level in Q4 2012.

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While a larger percentage may retire this year, SMB leaders don’t believe that it will strongly impact their businesses. Only 3 percent believe that it will have a strong impact (compared to 13 percent in Q4 2012) while 45 percent believe that it will have no impact at all (compared to 37 percent in Q4 2012).

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Closely related to the level of impact is how the Baby Boomers’ retirement will impact SMBs. The short answer in Q1 is—for the better. More than 40 percent of respondents believe that retirements will enhance their ability to consider new approaches and 32 percent believe that it will improve innovation and future growth. There is also a noted drawback, however, as 37 percent believe that Baby Boomer retirements will create a challenging knowledge gap for their companies.

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In an effort to bridge that knowledge gap, 16 percent plan to hire Boomers back on a contract basis. The majority, however (56 percent), have no plans to do so.

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The recent economic downturn has clearly impacted retirement plans and will apparently continue to do so for the next three years. In line with Q4 2012 responses, almost 74 percent of the respondents believe that up to 10 percent of their workforce delayed retirement over the last three years because of the recession and another 18 percent feel that more than 10 percent of their workforce did so. A similar percentage (16 percent) anticipate that trend to continue, with more than 10 percent of their employees expected to delay retirement during the next three years.

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As the flow of veterans back into the workforce accelerates, the percentage of SMB leaders with specific plans to recruit/hire U.S. veterans is increasing. While 16 percent had specific plans to do so in Q4 2012, that number has increased to 22 percent in Q1. Further, the percentage of executives who responded that they will not target military veterans for hiring in 2013 declined from 24 percent in Q4 2012 to 19 percent in Q1.

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SMBs do not appear reluctant to commit to hiring permanent employees instead of opting for contract workers. More than 40 percent will only hire permanent employees in 2013, contrasted with the 9 percent who will only hire contract workers. Slightly more than one-third will consider hiring a combination of contract and permanent workers.

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Sales, Marketing, IT, and Manufacturing Management topped the types of jobs most in demand by SMBs last quarter. In Q1, those positions continue to be in demand with 53 percent anticipating adding employees in Sales, 37 percent in IT, 35 percent in Marketing, and 25 percent in Manufacturing Management. Notable changes between Q4 2012 and Q1 include:
• Only 8 percent had plans to hire Human Resources professionals
in Q1, compared to 13 percent in Q4 2012
• In contrast, SMB leaders decided against decreasing IT
employees, with only 8 percent planning to decrease IT workforce
in Q1, as compared to 13 percent reported in Q4 2012
• The percentage of SMBs planning to decrease Legal employees
dropped from 16 percent to 10 percent

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Hiring and downsizing plans for Q1 remain largely unchanged from Q4 2012, but there is an uptick in hiring plans for the next 12 months. More than 60 percent of respondents are planning to hire in the next 12 months, compared to 55 percent in Q4 2012. Those who responded not applicable or undecided also dropped from 26 percent in Q4 2012 to 19 percent in Q1, perhaps indicating a greater degree of certainty in the economy.

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The challenge of finding top talent in the marketplace continues to be a problem for SMB leaders. While those who said that finding qualified candidates was easy increased 7 points from 6 percent to 13 percent in Q1, the percentage who rated it “extremely difficult” increased at almost the exact rate, from 5 percent to 10 percent.

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While smaller in volume, workforce, wages and salaries, and benefits decreases were more pronounced in 2012. Of those who decreased, almost one third (31 percent) cut workforce expenses by 11 percent or more and another 38 percent reduced workforce expenses by 5-10 percent. Reported reductions were not as substantial in wages & salaries and benefits expenses. 80 percent cut wages and salaries expenses by less than 10 percent, and 86 percent experienced the same <10 percent level of decrease in benefits expenses. However, all three areas experienced a spike at the high end of the spectrum, with between 10 and 14 percent of respondents reporting expense reductions that exceeded 25 percent.

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The percentage of SMBs reporting expense increases for 2012 were similar in Q1 as in Q4 2012. The vast majority reported that expenses for workforce, wages and salary, and benefits increased or stayed the same, while only 15 percent saw a decrease in workforce expenses and less than 10 percent witnessed a decrease in either wages and salary (9 percent) or benefits (6 percent) expenses during 2012.

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Of the companies reporting a workforce increase in 2012, approximately 27 percent reported increases that exceeded 11 percent. In wages and salaries, 22 percent of companies reporting increases did so at 11 percent or higher. Benefit expenses saw the highest percentage increase, with more than a third (38 percent) of the companies who reported increasing benefits expenses at 11 percent or more.

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The survey group continues to be composed of long-standing businesses with more than half of the Q1 respondents in business for more than 20 years. Another 38 percent have been in business from 6-20 years.

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Small businesses are the majority of the survey sample with 56 percent employing fewer than 500 employees and only 7 percent employing more than 5,000.

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Lucas Group

Lucas Group SMB Job Generation Outlook Survey

Q1, 2013

The SMB Job Generation Outlook survey evaluates key economic, employment, and
political policy drivers for the small to midsized business market. Through detailed analysis, the Outlook provides timely insight into both recent and near-term planned employment activity. This Q1 survey captures the visions and priorities of noteworthy SMB senior leadership, including Presidents (46 percent), CEOs (42 percent), and Business Owners (12 percent) throughout the U.S.

Q4 2012 Summary

The inaugural survey conducted in December 2012 revealed a dichotomy between how SMB leaders viewed their own businesses and how they viewed the national economy. Last quarter, respondents were confident in the 2013 prospects for their own companies, with 57 percent believing that they would grow and 55 percent planning to hire new employees. They were far less optimistic about Washington with almost half pessimistic about the prospects for the national economy.

Q1 Hiring Prospects

Four months later, their professional optimism continues with 71 percent optimistic about their companies’ prospects in 2013 and 59 percent optimistic about their companies’ job growth prospects. Nevertheless, almost 27 percent have plans to downsize in Q1, with another 19 percent yet unsure about second quarter hiring or downsizing plans.

With two-thirds of SMBs looking to hire either permanent or a combination of permanent and contract employees in Q1, several critical functionalities remained in prime focus. Sales, Information Technology, Marketing, and Manufacturing Management continue to be growth areas for professionals working in the SMB marketplace, and in Q1 60 percent of SMBs report experiencing at least some level of difficulty in finding and recruiting qualified candidates for professional and management positions.

Optimism / Pessimism

A notable change from Q4 2012 was reported in SMB leaders’ opinions regarding the national economy and national job growth prospects. In Q1, 47 percent reported being optimistic about job growth prospects, compared to only 28 percent in Q4 2012. This sustained optimism was perhaps a reflection of the larger economy’s performance during Q4 2012. National unemployment rates fell slightly during each month of Q4 2012, from 7.9 percent in January to 7.6 percent in March, and Q1 opened with a similar trend. April’s 7.5 percent non-farm unemployment rate caused a record rally on Wall Street and May’s initial number reported unemployment at 7.6 percent. Despite these overall national employment gains and 77 percent of SMBs viewing their own companies as “job generators” for the United States, only 40 percent report currently being in growth mode. Rather, a full t hird of S MBs c onsider their companies focused on maintaining stability during Q1.

An increased optimism was also reflected in the SMB leaders’ Q1 perceptions about Washington politics. The percentage of executives who reported feeling somewhat or very pessimistic about federal bipartisanship dropped 19 points from 81 percent in Q4 2012 to 62 percent in Q1, and overall optimism regarding bipartisanship in Washington doubled to 16 percent, up from 8 percent in Q4 2012. A similar positive shift occurred in their opinions about bipartisanship at the state level. In Q1, extreme pessimism regarding bipartisanship was much less pronounced at the state level (28 percent reported feeling very pessimistic) as compared to 47 percentat the federal level. State level optimism also saw an increase, reaching 22 percent in Q1 (up from 17 percent in Q4 2012). Key political and economic issues, such as The Affordable Care Act, potential increases to the minimum wage, and immigration reform evoke varied – and in some cases – uncertain opinions from the SMB market. Lucas Group will continue to survey SMB leaders about these significant issues each quarter and will monitor how SMB opinions and outlook may alter as Washington politics persist and Congressional actions occur.

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