Business Outlook Survey

2022 Business Outlook Survey Results

What are local business leaders anticipating in Oshkosh for 2022? That is the question we asked local CEOs, business managers and owners.  While it is impossible to predict our economic future with a high degree of specificity and in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, locally Oshkosh is doing well and has a position of strength in the marketplace. This past year, employment remained strong. According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (November 2021), the unemployment rate for Oshkosh remains below the national unemployment rate of 3.9 percent at 1.6 percent. This unemployment rate is amazing when you consider that in April 2020 the Oshkosh unemployment rate was 14.3 percent and 4.4 percent last year at this time. Oshkosh-based businesses are employing more people than ever before. Local companies employ 40,748 people in Oshkosh. In 2021, we had capital investment in commercial and industrial property of more than $45.4 million, with over $60 million of new development anticipated for 2022.

This past year challenged the Oshkosh business community. People will look back on 2021 and consider it one of the most transformational periods in Oshkosh history. As we turn the page in 2022, businesses are focused on reigniting the local economy and reasserting their competitiveness. The year 2022 will be taking us beyond the 2021 recovery as local businesses continue to build its base. Depending on where you sit, the 2021 recovery was strong. Some industries and businesses have thrived. We saw evidence in the surging stock market, housing boom, profits and robust consumer spending. Some businesses were adversely affected by the pandemic and continue to regain its business base back to pre-pandemic levels. Entire business sectors have been decimated because people aren’t traveling, gathering, shopping or going out like they used to resulting in a disproportionate negative impact on small business.

The results of the Oshkosh Chamber’s Annual Business Outlook Survey, a barometer that we use to gauge the degree of confidence of business leaders, indicated that area CEO’s and business owners are bullish on 2022. Overall, there is a growing degree of optimism among local CEOs and business owners with 66% of the participating CEOs rating their companies’ outlook as good to excellent in the next 6 months, 74% rate the next 12 months as good to excellent and 87% rating their outlook as good to excellent in the next 1 – 3 years.

Look Back on 2021: Of the local CEOs and business owners who participated in our annual Business Outlook Survey, 63 percent reported that sales increased in 2021 over the previous year, 61.5 percent indicated that profits were up, and 70 percent increased wages. This past year, 37 percent of reporting companies added staff to their payrolls. In 2021, 69 percent of the respondents indicated that their companies met or exceeded profitability expectations. For those companies missing the mark on profitability expectations cited higher operating costs, lack of employees, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and rising cost of raw materials as the biggest causes.

Forecast 2022: When asked for their forecasts for 2022, 78 percent believe that sales will out-perform the previous year’s sales level. Overall, participating firms expect sales gains according to 57 percent of the reporting companies in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the previous quarter. 61 percent of these companies expect sales increases in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same quarter in 2021.  64% of area CEOs expect to hire more people in 2022. While this is all very good news, business leaders report that finding qualified workers remains a challenge, with 75 percent indicating they have job openings that are unfilled.  These employers further indicated that recruiting qualified job applicants remains a challenge, 64% indicating 4 or few job applicants per job opening.

Manufacturers plan to increase their raw material inventories in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same quarter one year ago according to 69 percent of Oshkosh-based manufacturers. In the first quarter of 2022, 50 percent of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers anticipate higher volume of finished goods inventory over 2021 fourth quarter levels. These are lead indicators of an expected sales volume increase in the months to come.

In the 2022 Survey, we asked CEOs about their perception of the region and of Oshkosh. Overall, CEOs felt very positive about the Quality of Life in the region.  Responding companies indicated (Strongly Agreed to Agreed) the region has excellent community institutions with 95% indicating the hospitals and health care system is good to excellent; 92% indicating the education system was second to none; and, 92% believed the region has great public safety departments.

When asked about Oshkosh, CEOs again felt very positive (good to excellent) about the community, with 89% indicating that Oshkosh is a great place for raising a family and 86% indicating that Oshkosh is on the right track. Further, 83% believed Oshkosh has a strong, vibrant economy; 89% thought Oshkosh was business-friendly, with 78% saying it is a great place to start a business.

While optimism remains high, 36% of the responding CEOs indicated that the State of Wisconsin is headed in the right direction and 22% indicated the US is heading in the right direction in terms of the business climate.

Local CEOs stated the top public policy issues facing Wisconsin are the labor shortage/the lack of qualified applicants and the rate of inflation. Local CEOs also said that rising material costs and related supply chain issues continue to be a challenge.

CEOs, business managers and owners are probably some of the most optimistic personality types. True to form, our survey found Oshkosh business leaders inclined to be optimistic on 2022, but the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation and workforce continues to dampen the outlook. However, the severity of these threats to growth will play out over the course of the year.