Press-Republican

February 27, 2014

Business Confidence Index remains strong

North Country Chamber of Commerce issues annual survey

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — North Country business owners continue to show more optimism in the local economy than the national outlook.

The 2014 Business Confidence Index, released as part of the North Country Chamber of Commerce Annual Issue Survey, is listed at 92 percent, compared to 90 percent last year. 

The survey found 58 percent of business owners believe business will increase, and 34 percent expect it to remain steady.

Only 25 percent of those same business owners expect the national economy to improve, while 33 percent believe it will get worse.

JOB GROWTH

North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said the results show a continued culture of optimism as to what will happen in our own backyard.

“There are real, solid, on-the-ground reasons to feel optimistic,” he said.

Those include the continued strength of Canadian tourism, shopping and investment; major contract wins for Bombardier Transportation, Nova Bus and Prevost Car; continued strong sales- and occupancy-tax revenues; and the success of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, which has been a top performer in the statewide funding competition the last three years.

Another factor is the declining unemployment rate in Clinton County, which went from 9.7 percent in December 2012 to 7.4 percent in December 2013. 

Even more impressive was the growth of manufacturing jobs in the county, Douglas said. Although the state level of manufacturing jobs dropped 1.9 percent in 2013, that figure jumped 3.7 percent in the North Country.

That is likely to continue to improve, he said, as they have met with an attractive array of interested potential investors from across the border at a level not seen since the 1990s.

OBAMA-CARE SKEPTICS

Survey respondents expressed concerns about the Affordable Care Act. 

Douglas said 75 percent believe it will increase their cost of doing business, and 67 percent believe it will eliminate jobs and discourage job creation.

Also, 37 percent believe it will harm the North Country’s hospitals and health-care system, though 12 percent believe it will make those stronger. 

“Clearly, there is a lot of skepticism about the effectiveness of the act,” Douglas said.

SUPPORT BED TAX

He said they always try to include some regional questions.

When asked whether they support Franklin County’s effort to institute an occupancy tax, 87 percent responded in the affirmative. 

Franklin County Legislature Chairman Billy Jones said he was pleased with that result. It shows that business leaders have seen how such a tax has helped in marketing for other areas, including Clinton County, he said.

“Sales tax goes up with the occupancy fee,” he said.

A second regional question showed 97 percent support the planned expansion of Plattsburgh International Airport terminal.

FEDERAL-SPENDING CONCERNS

Asked their position on federal spending and debt, 87 percent indicated they are very concerned and believe both need to be decreased. 

As for ways to support national economic growth and job creation, 88 percent of business owners want to see a reduction of mandates and regulations on employers, 86 percent called for tax relief, 80 percent urged a reduction in federal spending, and 75 percent want to increase domestic energy production, including gas and oil.

CALL FOR MANDATE RELIEF

At the state level, 93 percent of respondents support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed tax-relief measures for upstate businesses and manufacturers. 

In addition, 95 percent support reform of “scaffold law” provisions, which make contractors and property owners solely liable for elevation-related injuries despite any contributing cause by the injured worker.

In addition, 92 percent oppose the use of taxpayer funds for political campaigns, 92 percent call for significant mandate relief to help with property-tax relief, and 83 percent support well-regulated extraction of the state’s natural-gas resources in the Southern Tier.

10 PERCENT RESPONSE

The survey was sent to about 4,200 businesses in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton and northern Warren counties. There was a 10 percent response rate, which Douglas said is very strong for a blind email survey.

He said the survey results will be used as part of the chamber’s advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., and Albany in the upcoming year.

Email Dan Heath:dheath@pressrepublican.com