MADISON – You probably don’t need a public-opinion survey to tell you most people today think the economy stinks. In fact, nine out of 10 technology executives who responded to the first WisBusiness.com Tech Leaders Survey rated the current economy as “only fair” or poor.
You might be surprised, however, by how many of those same tech company executives are keeping their chins up – despite a recession that is more than a year old and lingering like a bad dinner guest.
Perhaps it’s a testimony to their entrepreneurial spirit, or simply a harbinger that market conditions are improving, but 45 percent of the 277 tech leaders responding to the survey released July 14 said the Wisconsin economy will improve during the next year. Nearly three-quarters of the executives rated the overall prospects for their own companies as good or excellent.
Almost 45 percent of executives who responded to the survey believe the state’s economy will improve during the next 12 months. Nineteen percent (18.7 percent) said the state’s economy will get worse in the next year, while 36.4 percent believe economic conditions in Wisconsin will stay the same during that period.
Executives who responded to the survey are most optimistic about the prospects for the company they run. Nearly three-quarters of the executives rate the overall prospects for their own companies as good (50.4 percent) or excellent (21.9 percent). Twenty-two percent rate those prospects as only fair and 5 percent rate them as poor. Seventy percent of survey respondents said that things will get better for his or her company during the next 12 months. More than a quarter (27.0 percent) believes things will stay the same for their company in the next year. Only 2.5 percent believe things will get worse.
So, why are these folks so upbeat, especially after the drubbing the economy has taken since mid-2008?
In part, it’s because most tech executives are part of the innovation economy. They see silver linings in dark clouds. When those who have been slow to innovate stumble, tech company executives see themselves and their companies as ready to fill the void.
Emblematic of those executives is Dr. Roger Hutchison, president of Digital Data Destruction Inc. and D3 Services Inc. in northwest Wisconsin. Hutchison said he rated the current economy as poor but is “gung ho” on the future for the economy and his own company.
In part, Hutchison said, that’s because he perceives the economy has bottomed out to the point where “the value in things exceeds the cost. We’ve shaken the tree so hard that all the fruit has fallen on the ground, the seeds are planted and many are ready to grow. There’s a lot of value out there.”
Hutchison also believes the prospects for his company are “excellent” because “we have a fundamental position in a market niche that is growing – data security within information technology. We expect to start hiring people back and start expanding late this year.”
Few tech leaders who were surveyed were optimistic about the current supply of capital. Almost 80 percent of the respondents rate the availability of capital as only fair (34.1 percent) or poor (44.0 percent). But the survey appears to counter the myth that it’s hard to find talented workers in Wisconsin. Nearly 60 percent (57.9 percent) of the tech leaders rated as good the ability of the current labor market to meet the personnel needs of their own companies. Almost 20 percent (19.8 percent) described it as excellent. Twenty-two percent of survey respondents rated the current labor market as only fair (20.1 percent) or poor (2.2 percent).
Seventy-five percent (75.2 percent) of executives who took the survey believe the ability of the current labor market to fill their company’s personnel needs will stay the same during the next 12 months. Twenty-one percent (21.2 percent) said it would get better.
Hutchison said hiring talented people has not been a problem for Digital Data Destruction, which has a leadership team that includes IT professionals with advanced degrees and security clearance.
“I guarantee you I could hire another six people with credentials like that tomorrow morning, and bring them right here to Bayfield County,” Hutchison said.
For Wisconsin’s economy, “tomorrow morning” can’t come soon enough. Fortunately, there are optimistic tech company leaders out there who can’t wait to see the sun rise.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which conducted the online tech leaders survey in partnership with WisBusiness.com and The Luminis Group. There was a 29.5 percent response rate. Still is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.