NJBIA Business Outlook Survey: Things are better — but still not great

Businessmen falling down toward the economic crisis

Let’s start with all of the good news that comes out of the 65th annual New Jersey Business & Industry Association Business Outlook survey:

  • Inflation: Those who said they were substantially impacted by inflation overall decreased from 45% to 36% from a year ago — and those who said they were substantially impacted by inflation for supplies and materials decreased from 65% to 51%;
  • Staffing: Those saying they were challenged to find appropriate staffing decreased from 70% to 55%;
  • Workforce: Those saying New Jersey’s workforce was better than other states increased to 29% — two percentage points higher than 2022 and eight percentage points higher than 2021;
  • Education: Those saying New Jersey public schools are better than other states jumped from 45% to 48% (which only means about half of those surveyed are uninformed).

That’s the good news.

The annual survey includes plenty that’s not so good.

When asked if the governor and New Jersey lawmakers have done enough to address business affordability in the past 12 months, only 4% said yes (though 28% said they were unsure).

And when comes to the cost of doing business, well …

  • 83% said New Jersey was worse than other states for taxes and fees;
  • 67% said New Jersey was worse than other states in controlling government spending;
  • 60% said New Jersey was worse than other states in controlling labor costs;
  • 57% said New Jersey was worse than other states for the cost of regulatory compliance.

NJBIA CEO Michele Siekerka called the results a mixed bag.

“While it’s clear businesses are still struggling with inflation and the increased costs of running their operations, it does appear that last year represented a low-water mark that we’re hopefully crawling out from,” she said.

“That’s not to say the 2024 outlook is positive overall. There are still many issues our job creators need to contend with, and newer concerns over rising energy costs and mandates. But, if our policymakers can be more proactive in improving our business climate, we can move the needle even more in the right direction.”

The right direction for business, of course, means more profits.

That’s not something the business community is expecting, the survey found.

Only one in three respondents (32%) reported profits in 2023, down from 36%. At the same time, 44% reported a loss, compared with 40% in 2022.

The outlook for 2024 isn’t much better. Only 37% believe they will make a profit — compared with 28% who feel they won’t.

The issue, Siekerka said, is simple.

“Small businesses face considerable headwinds when trying to make a profit,” she said. “This is why NJBIA uses a mantra to Trenton lawmakers that ‘every dollar counts,’ when informing on policy.”

You don’t need a survey to tell you that.