Wisconsin News

Survey: Small-businesses hesitate to expand

ONALASKA, Wis. - By most measures, the U.S. is in the recovery stage of the recession.

But a new survey shows most small-business owners are still hesitant to expand.

U.S. Bank surveyed more than 3,000 small-business owners across the country, including right here in Wisconsin.

The survey shows those owners still have mixed feelings about whether the country is still in a recession or a recovery, and it means a majority of them don't plan to expand this year.

B.A. Burrito Co. owner Ryan Johnson doesn't fall into that category.

At just five years old, it's a business that grew up in the shadow of economic turmoil.

Its third location just opened up last month in Onalaska, making Johnson part of the approximately 30 percent of small-business owners who planned to make capital expenditures this year -- which basically means buying more stuff.


"The purchase of new plants, new equipment, trucks to transport your goods, or packaging," said Taggert Brooks, the chair of the economics department at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

But that means two-thirds of small-business owners in Wisconsin and nationwide don't plan to expand this year, according to the U.S. Bank Small Business Annual Survey.

That's despite the fact that the economy is in a recovery.

"It doesn't feel like a robust recovery, but still, as we would define it, the economy is growing," said Brooks.

The survey showed small-business owners see economic uncertainty as the biggest challenge they face today, which Brooks chalks up to political problems like sequestration.

"I think that there is good reason to be uncertain," said Brooks. "But I think it's also a very inexpensive time to finance. I think it's those people who are willing to sort of risk a lot at this point of the business cycle, it could pay off very big for them."

It's a risk Johnson is willing to take.

Within the next two years, he plans to have six B.A. Burrito locations.

"The sense of optimism is a lot greater than what it was in the past. I think there was a lot of fear, a lot of unknown in the past years. And even though I don't think it's great, the confidence level is starting to come around, and that's a big thing," said Johnson.

The survey shows Wisconsin small-business owners actually have a more optimistic view of the economic climate than their counterparts nationwide. Overall, 43 percent of small business owners think the economy is still in a recession, compared to 39 percent of Wisconsin owners.

A majority of Wisconsin small-business owners say they think the economic conditions in the state are about the same as they are in the rest of the country.

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