SMB Market Survey Reveals Increased Economic and Employment Optimism

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Small and mid-sized business leaders report positive growth plans; note rising challenges from talent availability and health care costs.

Lucas Group

As Baby Boomers retire in record numbers and Millennials look to replace them, albeit with their own ideas and expectations of how business can – and should – be conducted, companies can be caught unsure of how to smoothly bridge this talent

U.S. job creation numbers, unemployment rates and corporate financial growth each finished 2014 better than they began, and these positive trends were reflected by SMB companies across the nation. According to Lucas Group’s newly released SMB Job Generation Outlook, small to mid-sized business leaders are generally optimistic about 2015 economic and employment opportunities – both for the nation as well as their specific     businesses – and the overall health of the SMB appears strong.

Lucas Group has conducted the SMB Job Generation Outlook on a quarterly basis for the past two years, surveying approximately 400 top executives each quarter. In Q4, SMB optimism reached a survey high with 75 percent of respondents reporting feeling optimistic about the economy. The U.S. added nearly 3 million jobs in 2014, and many SMBs plan to continue growing. Forty-seven percent say they will hire in early 2015 and six in ten plan to hire sometime this year. These solid hiring plans reveal a 6-point increase from the same time last year and reflect the moderate, sustained pace of the nation’s overall employment trends.

In addition to economic trends, the Outlook identifies and tracks the SMB’s chief business concerns. In Q4, responding executives rated health care costs and talent availability as their utmost business challenges. Thirty-two percent cited health care costs as their #1 concern, followed closely by talent availability, at 29 percent. These two issues have remained at the top of the SMB challenge list for two years, dwarfing concerns over market competition, tax policies or regulations.

Looking closer, the Outlook reveals that finding qualified talent for open positions has been a growing struggle for SMBs. Since early 2013, the survey has tracked a widening in the available talent gap. In Q4, 60 percent reported difficulty in finding and hiring qualified talent, including 14 percent citing talent acquisition as extremely difficult. SMBs consistently list Sales, Information Technology and Accounting & Finance as the functional positions most difficult to fill.

“The growing talent challenges faced by SMBs across the country appear to be, in part, responsive to changes in our generational workforce,” said Scott Smith, Chief Marketing Officer at Lucas Group. “As Baby Boomers retire in record numbers and Millennials look to replace them, albeit with their own ideas and expectations of how business can – and should – be conducted, companies can be caught unsure of how to smoothly bridge this talent gap and effectively evolve their workforce structure.”

To address talent availability and acquisition challenges, SMBs are employing a variety of strategies. Executives were permitted more than one response and top approaches include:

  • 28% are engaging with recruitment firms to find qualified talent.
  • 21% are increasing employee salaries and bonuses to attract/retain candidates.
  • 14% are using online postings and social media to appeal to candidates.
  • 14% are increasing their advertising of job openings.
  • 13% are working with college and university recruitment offices.
  • 19% cited a variety of other strategies, including:

-Buying other companies to inherit their talent/workforce

  • Looking internationally for qualified, skilled candidates
  • Making corporate policy, environmental and cultural changes to better attract/retain talent

The SMB is often heralded in our national discourse as the “backbone” and “job generator” of the American economy, and four out of five SMB leaders agree. Noting the significance of this market sector, the Outlook also strives to capture executive plans and opinions on an array of social and political issues.

Other key findings from Lucas Group’s Q4 survey include:

  • More SMBs reported their businesses are in a positive, healthy condition of “growth” than was reported one year ago. While in Q4 2013, only 38 percent of SMBs reported a position of “growth,” that number increased to 46 percent in Q4 2014 (a survey high). Another 44 percent of SMB executives self-report a position of “maintaining stability”.
  • One year ago, slightly over half (54 percent) of SMBs reported expecting some level of impact from Baby Boomer retirements, while 43 percent expected no impact. Today, those expectations have shifted. Nearly 70 percent of SMBs now project that Boomer retirements will impact their businesses, and the percentage of companies who expect no impact at all has fallen 12 points, to a survey low of 31 percent.
  • Leading into the mid-term elections last fall, SMB pessimism regarding bipartisanship at both state and federal government levels set survey record highs. After reaching 78 percent in Q3, Q4 pessimism regarding federal bipartisanship dropped back to 66 percent, in line with earlier Outlook findings.

The SMB Job Generation Outlook is conducted by Lucas Group in coordination with Polaris Marketing Research and Dr. Goutam Challagalla, Associate Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology Scheller College of Business. For the full Q4 SMB Job Generation Outlook, click here .

About the Survey
Conducted quarterly, the SMB Job Generation Outlook is a national survey of SMB top business leaders. The Q4 survey was conducted by Polaris Market Research on behalf of Lucas Group. Each of the 400 respondents was a CEO, CFO, COO, chairman, president, executive vice president and/or owner of their company. The survey covered a wide variety of industries with manufacturing, finance/insurance/real estate, business services, IT and construction having the strongest presence. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents were from businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees.

About Lucas Group
Lucas Group is North America’s premier executive search firm. Since 1970, our culture and methodologies have driven superior results. We assist clients ranging in size from small to medium-sized businesses to Fortune 500 companies find transcendent, executive talent; candidates fully realize their ambitions; and associates find professional success. To learn more, please visit Lucas Group at and connect with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Kate Wilson
Lucas Group
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