The Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce released its annual survey of businesses Tuesday. It found that business confidence has risen over last year and for the first time there is a positive attitude toward both state and federal economic policy.
The Chamber releases a Business Confidence Index annually based on the percentage of businesses that plan to increase or maintain steady business over the coming year. This year the index is at 96 percent, up 3 percent from last year’s survey. Chamber President and CEO Garry Douglas says the survey gives a collective voice to the region’s business community. “To see that additional shift of eight percentage points from holding steady to going up to take us up to 96 percent is a pretty astounding vote of confidence. It’s a great indicator that the business community is feeling good. We see that on the ground in everything from sales tax receipts to job hirings. So the indicators are out there. We’ve got a lot of work to do. One of the related things that they indicated was the identification of the need for flexible resources behind workforce training and development to prepare the workforce for the jobs they have is their number one priority in Albany this year.”
The Trump Administration is renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. With cross-border trade key to the local economy, Douglas was not surprised that the primary federal issue on the survey is the NAFTA negotiations. “With 98 percent saying just how important it is we have some reasons to be concerned on that front. Because it is so overwhelmingly the single greatest driving force in every element of our economy, from retail and tourism to manufacturing and real estate investment, it going wrong would, or starting to get a little too bumpy would have to start having some repercussions in this region. So hopefully for our sake that isn’t the case but it’s the one shadow.”
Douglas also provided a quick outline of regional businesses’ state priorities. “Number one, more support for workforce development and training. We had a tie for number two: make the 2 percent property tax cap permanent and close the state budget gap without tax increases. And then close broadband and cell phone service gaps. So those are the identified regional priorities.”
Community Bank Regional Banking Manager and Chamber Board First Vice Chair Kent Backus says the confidence of employers in the North Country has been growing for nearly two decades. “When businesses and consumers are optimistic they’re encouraged to increase their spending and investments which ultimately leads to growing businesses hiring more people, increased wages. So it’s a win-win for all of us. And our strategic location with Montreal and Canada is certainly a factor in helping us with our economic growth and actually to become one of the top small business communities in America. I mean we routinely lead the state in the growth of manufacturing jobs. In addition to this economic performance our quality of life just provides a great balance.”
Board member John VanNatten, Vice President of Business Development at Glens Falls National Bank, attributes the rise in confidence to clear direction over the years. “Going back 15 years or more we always had a clear direction: it was Canada and its impact on the economy. It was transportation. And then we had clear accomplishments. The chamber provides to the business community a clear communication of what the direction is, what our accomplishments are and what we need to do. And I think that’s what really gives us a strong steady approval every year and I expect that to continue.”
The survey found that respondents support significant federal regulatory reform and relief and infrastructure funding.
The Chamber reported a 15 percent response rate to the annual issue survey.