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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2010

Survey finds Ohio firms still skittish on hiring

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

A survey of small and midsized business owners in Ohio has found them worried about stagnating sales and profits and holding off hiring until the economic outlook improves.

The survey of 151 Ohio business owners - part of a national survey of more than 1,400 business owners conducted between July 29 and Aug. 25 by PNC Financial Services Group Inc. - found 37 percent identified weak sales as their most pressing challenge.

As a result, only 6 percent of respondents expected to hire more full-time employees the next six months.

"It does look like hiring activity is being pared back, but the survey was in the field in August at a time when economists feel the economy had slipped into a soft patch. Since then, economic data [have] improved slightly," said Robert Dye, senior economist with PNC Financial.

One in four respondents to the survey reported improved performance in their own businesses, but 48 percent said they expected that an improvement to their business was more than a year away.

While economists said last month that the most recent recession technically ended in June, 2009, the survey found that 95 percent of respondents think the national economy had not begun to improve noticeably, and 75 percent said they believed a noticeable recovery was more than a year away.

PNC's survey of small and midsized businesses has been conducted each spring and fall since 2003.

Since the last survey, the most statistically significant change was in the number of respondents who indicated they planned to hire more workers in the near future.

In the spring, 19 percent said they planned to hire, three times more than now. However, over those six months, Ohio's unemployment rate has dropped about a full percentage point, indicating additional hiring.

"Now, I think there's a sense that businesses are trying to see if they can function at a very lean level," Mr. Dye said.

Still, despite the survey's pessimistic findings, Mr. Dye said he and other PNC economists believe hiring will improve over the next year.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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