Business leaders pack a banquet room at the Hyatt Regency during the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce’s annual economic forecast breakfast on Nov. 17 in Bellevue. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Hou

Bellevue business leaders optimistic for 2017, but cite top challenges

Things are looking up for Eastside businesses.

That’s the general sentiment of Eastside business owners and CEOs whom the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce recently surveyed for its annual Eastside Business Leader Survey.

Business owners’ and CEO’s optimism for the 2017 economic outlook remains high, as 88 percent of survey participants believe the Puget Sound economy will continue to expand in the next year, according to the survey. That percentage reflects a rebound from the 2008 low of 36 percent.

The survey also looked at local companies’ revenue and jobs outlooks, what business leaders felt their biggest business challenges are, what state and local challenges impacted their business the most and other key economic indicators.

“The purpose of survey is to get a pulse of what’s going on from our business leaders,” said chamber president and CEO Betty Nokes Capestany, who presented an overview of the survey results to a packed room during the chamber’s annual Eastside economic forecast breakfast on Nov. 17 at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue. “From the last 23 years of doing this survey, it’s been an actual capture of what happens in the marketplace.”

Capestany noted that companies can use this survey — which is detailed in the chamber’s 64-page 2017 Eastside Economic Strategy Guide — for business planning purposes.

The chamber surveyed many business leaders from a diverse sample of business classifications, 72 percent of whom are business owners and CEOs. Sixty-five percent of the respondents have been in business on the Eastside for over 15 years.

Though Capestany didn’t have the exact number of respondents on hand, 57 percent of the businesses the chamber surveyed are located in Bellevue, 8.5 percent have multiple locations and the remaining 6 percent are located in Seattle and other Eastside cities, according to the survey.

Local companies were also optimistic about their own businesses when it comes to forecasting revenue in the next year. Over 76 percent of respondents expect that revenue will come in stronger than last year, compared to 74 percent in 2016. Eighteen percent expect their revenue to hold steady, a 3 percent decrease from last year’s 21 percent.

Over half of the survey participants, 51 percent, expect to add employees to their company in 2017 (compared to 52 percent in 2016 and 41 percent in 2013).

The most job growth in relation to company size is expected within companies of 51-99 employees (76 percent) and 100-250 employees (66 percent).

Top areas of workforce expansion continued the same as last year, including marketing and sales positions, administration and industry/technical specialists.

But the survey was not entirely upbeat.

Business leaders also noted their top four state and local business challenges, which have remained at the top of the charts the last two years, they just flipped order, Capestany said. The top four challenges include:

• Cost of healthcare, which rose from the No. 2 slot the last two years to the top challenge this year;

• Federal legislation, which moved up from No. 3 last year;

• The global economy, up from No. 4 last year;

• Access to talent, which moved down to No. 4 this year.

In addition, the top four national factors impacting business leaders’ outlooks this year include transportation, infrastructure and congestion; employee health care costs; business taxation, regulation and utilities rates; and regional economic climate.

Business leaders have sent a consistent message the last three years that these four areas are their top challenges, according to the survey.

The chamber’s Eastside Economic Strategy Guide also details other economic market conditions, including the state and Puget Sound’s economic outlook, a real estate market review for commercial office in Bellevue, travel and tourism and more.

The complete results of the chamber’s survey may be found in the strategy guide online at www.bellevuechamber.org/2017strategyguide.

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