Business outlook is improving in Vermont

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Vermont business owners are feeling a renewed sense of optimism so far this year.

A recent survey reveals that, while there is still room for improvement, opinions about the Vermont and U.S. economies are moving in a positive direction compared to last summer's semi-annual survey, conducted by Davis and Hodgdon Associates CPAs and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

Here are some key findings from the most recent report:

- 18 percent of businesses exclusive to Vermont believe the state's economy is in decline (compared to 33 percent in July); 18 percent feel it is improving (compared to 14 percent previously).

- 24 percent of businesses doing business outside the state believe the state's economy is declining (compared to 32 percent previously); 19 percent feel it is improving (18 percent previously).).

- When asked to describe the current state of the U.S. economy, respondents in both groups appeared more positive than they did in July: 49 percent feel it is improving (35 percent in July), only 12 percent believe it is declining (versus 21 percent in July).

- Respondents' expectations for business growth is similar to those from the July survey: 56 percent expect sales to increase (similar to the 59 percent back in July), 42 percent intend to increase capital spending (compared to 39 percent previously), and 40 percent look to increase staff (versus 36 percent in July).

- The top three key issues facing businesses are taxes, health insurance costs, and finding qualified employees. These are the same key issues business owners have identified in the previous four semi-annual surveys, however it is noteworthy that they are much more concerned about Vermont tax laws (34 percent) and property tax (33 percent) than with federal tax laws (20 percent).

- Similarly, when asked to identify one business economic issue they want to see addressed by the state Legislature this year, most respondents expressed continued concern with high taxes, too much (over) regulation, and an overall lack of economic development efforts.

- Finally, 67 percent of business owners said that while there are challenges to doing business in Vermont, they are committed to staying because their customers/clients/products/supply chain/environment are here. This is a considerable improvement since July, when only 50 percent of respondents expressed this same commitment.

All of there are encouraging signs, but as we noted, there is always room for improvement.

"The results indicate that Vermont needs greater focus on economic development strategies while paying close attention to costly taxes, fees and regulations that curtail further investment," Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, said in a release.

Businesses in the Green Mountain State must be thrilled with Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who was able to get a budget passed on near unanimous vote that doesn't rely on new taxes or fees.

"That is something that hasn't happened in this state in over a decade," Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree told the Associated Press. "It's what he was elected on and he is holding true to that promise."

Now let's see what Scott and the Legislature can do about streamlining the regulatory process and fostering much-needed economic development.

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