Survey: SMBs Looking to Hire in 2009

Small-business owners are still looking for staff despite a poor economic client, but are they willing to pay top dollar for top talent?

For the second time in as many months, a survey of small to medium-size business owners suggests that, despite woeful economic conditions, midmarket companies are still looking to take on new staff in the new year.
Entrex, a Chicago firm that markets information on privately held companies, released the results of its annual Private Company Index CEO Sentiment Survey for the upcoming year. The survey found 72 percent of CEOs plan to increase the number of full-time employees in the coming year.
Despite all the news regarding staff reductions, the remainder of the survey respondents indicated they will maintain the current number of full-time employees, suggesting zero CEOs have plans to decrease employment size in 2009. A lackluster holiday season may yet temper these encouraging findings, but the industry sectors represented by survey respondents are broad (including technology, entertainment, health care, telecom, hospitality, retail, manufacturing and business services), suggesting SMB owners are generally optimistic about 2009.
This could potentially bring welcome relief from the current period where, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the unemployment rate has risen 1.7 percent since December 2007 and represents 2.7 million new unemployed Americans. "Obviously, it's great that people can expect this sector of midmarket private companies to promote job stability, hire and increase employment," said Entrex CEO Stephen Watkins.
Watkins said he thinks this data should be taken as a positive barometer reading because, historically, all increases in employment have been fruitful to both individual Americans and for the overall productivity of the U.S. economy. However, the survey does not include what may turn out to be an important indicator of whether businesses are really focused on hiring in 2009.
"What this particular survey doesn't reveal is the past employment data patterns of these companies," he said. "Because of this, we aren't able to make broad conclusions about the overall effect on numbers of employed Americans, say compared to employment levels in Q1 2008."
Earlier in December, a report from Glenview, Ill.-based SurePayroll suggested SMBs are still hiring despite the sluggish economy. In the survey, which interviewed 214 small-business owners in the final week of November, 43 percent said the down economy is not negatively impacting their businesses.
While SMBs are reporting employment gains, however small, the salaries connected to those positions are shrinking. SurePayroll's survey found salaries declined by 0.39 percent in November, which matches the previous month's percentage decline. The number of jobs lost in America this year has produced a buyer's market for human capital, which allows employers to hire talent for less money. So while SMB owners may be looking for new talent in search of a home, don't expect to see many paying top dollar for equivalent talent.