In 2013, Rhode Island businesspeople began to really believe in the recovery. A year earlier, with revenue rising and the Great Recession fading into memory, signs of optimism began emerging among local executives, at least about the prospects for their own enterprises.
But the poor performance of Rhode Island’s economy compared with the rest of the country, along with a stream of national and international fiscal crises, kept the positive outlook modest and limited to those improvements they could see firsthand.
Now, however, responses to the Providence Business News semiannual business survey show improving fortunes in many corners of the economy have convinced businesspeople that even Rhode Island is headed in the right direction.
Seventy-four percent of the businesses responding to the survey said they expect their business will be in better shape one year from now than it is today, the highest total in the survey’s 51/2-year history and a 5 percentage-point increase from last winter.
And perhaps more revealing, 66 percent of the 84 businesses responding in late 2013 said they expect the Rhode Island economy will improve either significantly or slightly in the year ahead, also a new high and 20 percentage points higher than last winter.
“We definitely see growth,” said Peter Crump, co-owner of Site Specific, a general contractor design-build firm in the Olneyville section of Providence. “We see more competition and tighter margins, but … people have been spending more in the last couple years.”
In the financial sector, BankNewport reported an “all-time high” in commercial lending in 2013, indicating that many businesses are looking to grow.
“We interpret this as an overall positive sign that Rhode Island’s economy is on a positive track,” said BankNewport Executive Vice President Leland R. Merrill Jr. in an email. “Our lenders are hearing from their customers in these industries that business is close to back on track with pre-recession levels.”
Based on the responses, the newly positive outlook is rooted in recent results at local companies.
The number of businesses reporting increased quarterly activity rose 11 percentage points, new quarterly orders increased 10 percentage points, and net annual income gained 6 percentage points on last winter.
Of those responses, only new quarterly orders fell (2 percentage points) from the 2013 midyear survey.