NJBIA survey shows modest improvement as N.J. moves farther from recession’s bottom

TRENTON – The key words were ‘modest,’ ‘incremental.’

New Jersey saw such modest improvement this year in sales, profits, and spending. But the employment picture remains stubbornly bleak.

Those were among the findings of the 2012 Business Outlook Survey by the N.J. Business and Industry Association released today.

“New Jersey is making progress towards a full recovery, but we aren’t there yet,” NJBIA President Philip Kirschner said of the survey of 1,568 companies. “There is some improvement, but many businesses continue to struggle, and they are understandably reluctant to hire.”

For a fourth consecutive year, more companies reported a decline in their sales, profits, spending and employment than reported an increase, the Association reported, adding that 86 percent of the respondents were small businesses with up to 49 employees.

“It’s a small-business state,” Kirschner said. “The survey mirrors the makeup of New Jersey business.” The survey was conducted in September.

Although the survey showed some incremental advances, in illustrating the sluggish jobs picture, nearly twice as many companies reported making layoffs as reported hiring additional workers in 2011, leaving the survey’s current-employment indicator at a negative level for a fourth consecutive year.

The bleak numbers for this year do not bode well for a huge expansion next year, the survey indicates.

Fifteen percent of respondents are planning to expand employment, 13 percent are planning to make employment cuts, and 71 percent of businesses are planning to keep employment stable. The net proportion of companies planning to expand employment is just 2 percent.

But that is better than 2011, when only 15 percent of respondents hired workers; 58 percent kept employment stable, and 27 percent cut their work force.

Kirschner said that the survey shows that while New Jersey “is moving one more step away from the recovery’s bottom in 2009, core indicators remain at low levels.”

The state has not moved to a level that would indicate that a great level of hiring is about to occur, but Kirschner said that there is reason for those with jobs to feel confident they will hold onto their jobs moving forward.

The survey stated that 20 percent of respondents expect conditions to improve for the state in the first half of 2012, but 33 percent expect conditions to worsen.

The biggest change, he said, is in regards to the sales outlook for 2012.  Forty-two percent of respondents expect to see higher revenues, and 33 percent expect to spend more next year.

In fact, 18 percent said New Jersey is a good place to expand, ending a decade of declining ratings in that area.

Respondents listed health insurance costs, property taxes, and the overall cost of doing business in New Jersey as top concerns.

The weak picture respondents have for the state is reflected on a national scale. The percentage of respondents saying U.S economic conditions will worsen in the first six months of 2012 is three times higher than the percentage saying conditions will improve, 43 percent to 14 percent, according to the survey.

However, one rosy spot is the sentiment respondents have toward the governor.

Seventy-four percent of respondents said Gov. Chris Christie is doing a good to excellent job.

And overall, respondents view the state more favorably than in some prior years.

In addition, respondents viewed the Legislature in a favorable light. Twenty-eight percent said lawmakers are doing a good to excellent job, up from 15 percent last year and 5 percent the year before that.

NJBIA has more than 21,000 members.

NJBIA survey shows modest improvement as N.J. moves farther from recession’s bottom