About 70% of top executives for small- to medium-sized businesses in Virginia said in a recent survey that they expect business conditions altered by the pandemic to return to a more “normal” state in late 2021 or sometime in 2022.
The quarterly survey, conducted by the Virginia Council of CEOs and the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, also found that a slight majority of business CEOs foresee improvements in hiring over the next six months.
“CEOs responded to this survey in the week following the attack on the U.S. Capitol and as news broke that Virginia’s vaccine rollout was moving more slowly than expected,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs, a professional group for top executives of small- to medium-sized businesses in Virginia.
McRoberts noted that the survey’s overall index — an indication of general business confidence — remains lower than at any time in the 10 years the quarterly survey was conducted before the pandemic.
“The CEOs I know are working hard to overcome these challenging times and to save jobs, but most anticipate that the next six months will continue to be difficult,” McRoberts said.
About 43% of the CEOs surveyed said they expect a return to normal business conditions late this year, with “normal” being defined as less need for wearing face coverings and the ability for people to return to mostly in-person office work and meetings.
About 29% said they expect normal conditions to return sometime in 2022. Only 17% said they think things will return to normal by this summer, and 10% said they have no expectation of a return to normal.
About 52% of the CEOs who responded to the survey expect employment to increase over the next six months, up from only 39% in a survey conducted during the third quarter of 2020.
About 36% expect employment to remain flat for the next six months, while 12% expect employment to fall.
“The trends in employment are more positive than they have been,” said Rich Boulger, the associate dean at the Robins School who administers the survey.
Boulger said one major uncertainty for businesses is the efficacy of the vaccines for COVID-19.
“What is unclear is the long-term impact” on the ability of businesses to return to normal operations, he said.
The most recent survey was conducted the second week of January with 70 CEOs from multiple industries responding. The average company whose CEO responded had about $14.4 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was about 388.
Even with the improved employment outlook, about 46% of the CEOs indicated they expect sales to increase over the next six months, a decrease from the 61% expectation from the third-quarter survey.
Capital spending expectations improved, with almost 25% of the CEOs saying they expect to put more money into capital projects in the next six months compared with only 14% in the third quarter of last year.
CEOs also were asked what aspects of current business operations they expect to continue after the pandemic. Most responded that they expect to see some people continuing to work from home and more use of online and videoconference meeting tools.