Sep 10, 2019 - 7:30am

Small Business Index Hits Record High Amid Mixed Economic Signals


Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications

You could easily get confused by the latest economic data. In August, the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index posted its largest monthly decline since December 2012. Last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.7%, remaining near a 50-year low, but trailed economists’ estimates. Mixed signals, indeed.  

But one thing is clear: the country’s small businesses are experiencing record-high outlooks of their own business health and the general business environment. 

How do we know? This quarter’s MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index  is up to 70.7—up two percentage points from Q2—marking the highest number for the Index since its inception in early 2017. This finding indicates that nearly 71% of U.S. small business owners currently have a positive outlook on their companies’ financial future and business environment.

A key change small businesses are reporting this quarter is increased optimism about their local economies. More than half of small business owners (56%) report that their local economy is in good health, up five percentage points from last quarter and the highest percentage since Q4 2018. 

One of these small business owners, Mike Zaffaroni of Liberty Landscape Supply in Jacksonville, Florida, sees growth all around town. 

“The local economy is very good to great. I hesitate to say ‘great’ because you don’t want to jinx it or you don’t know what’s going to come around the corner,” Zaffaroni says. “All the telltale signs of growth are here. Whether it’s construction cranes on the horizon, construction that’s happening, a challenging job market in terms of being able to find employees because everyone’s got jobs, rising wages, etc.” 

Maybe the reason we’re seeing mixed signals right now is that despite optimism on Main Street, Washington keeps throwing curveballs in the shape of increased tariffs and trade tensions that are creating undue uncertainty at just the wrong time. In fact new figures from the Federal Reserve indicate that uncertainty over trade policy is likely to reduce U.S. economic output by more than one percent

“Small business confidence continues to surge under current economic conditions, following lower taxes and less regulation,” says Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We need to focus on ways to keep these trends moving in a positive direction by reducing trade and tariff uncertainty, passing infrastructure reform, and helping small employers find the workers and capital they need to grow.”  

Small Businesses Eager to Hire Veterans

This quarter’s index also casts a spotlight on veteran-owned businesses and the employment of veterans by small businesses generally. 

Small businesses agree that they have more work to do when it comes to recruiting veterans: Over 80% of small businesses say that it is important for businesses to focus more on hiring veterans. And 56% of small businesses have participated in some activity relating to veterans, but only one in 10 small businesses has intentionally recruited military veterans in the past year.

Other findings of the survey include: 

  • About half (46%) of small businesses report they have hired a military veteran. 
  • Veteran-owned businesses are more likely to report that they have hired veterans, with 59% of veteran-owned small businesses saying they have hired military veterans.
  • When it comes to intentionally recruiting veterans, 23% of veteran-owned small businesses report doing so versus 10% of other small businesses. 

Job candidates who are veterans are more often perceived as having traits employers value according to another survey. They are traits that Joe Shamess, a veteran and co-founder and owner of Flags of Valor in Ashburn, Virginia, is familiar with. 

“Veterans are proven learners with a passion for teamwork and a commitment to results,” Shamess says. “Every sailor, soldier, airman and marine entered military service needing to learn the basic skills of the armed forces and the advanced skills to support dynamic missions. Additionally, many of them have even succeeded at their missions in combat environments…It’s a win-win for businesses and their communities.”

One way for small businesses to improve the recruitment and hiring of veterans is to engage with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) program, which helps veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses connect with employers. Both employers and veterans can find and learn about real-world (and virtual) job fairs for veterans in their local communities. HOH also has a digital platform where service members can build a resume and make it searchable for thousands of employers. And there’s no cost for employers to register for or attend a HOH event.

Lisa Parmeter, co-founder and COO of Call Sign Coffee, a veteran-owned small business, says that veterans possess skills sets that are ideal for any entrepreneurial organization. 

“Veterans have that can-do attitude,” Lisa says. “They’re more willing to try new things and more open to things that aren’t necessarily in their job description. In the service, they work a myriad of jobs: one day they might be a mechanic, and the next they’re in the office doing administrative stuff. Anything you throw at them, they’re going to roll with it.”

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About the Author

About the Author

Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications

Thaddeus is a senior writer and editor with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's strategic communications team.