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24th Annual Corporate Survey Results

After 2009's economic woes, businesses look to balance their cost-related priorities with their 2010 growth strategies.

Dec/Jan 10
Relocation plans are not much changed from last year: 20 percent of the 2009 Corporate Survey respondents plan to relocate a domestic facility within the new year or two (Figure 22).
Relocation plans are not much changed from last year: 20 percent of the 2009 Corporate Survey respondents plan to relocate a domestic facility within the new year or two (Figure 22).
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Among the quality-of-life factors, our 2009 Corporate Survey respondents ranked low crime rate as their top priority. This factor has historically been ranked as the primary quality-of-life consideration over our Corporate Survey's 24-year history. Seventy-nine percent of the 2009 respondents rated this factor as either "very important" or "important," and it was one of only two quality-of-life factors to actually increase its importance rating.

Low crime rate was also rated more than 10 percent higher than the second-ranked quality-of-life factor, heathcare facilities, which declined 9.2 percentage points, receiving a 68.4 percent importance rating from the 2009 Corporate Survey respondents. Nonetheless, this factor's second-place finish among the respondents' quality-of-life concerns is no surprise with the healthcare debate now before Congress being front and center in the media and on the respondents' minds.

As a final location-factor question, we asked our survey-takers if they consider whether there are businesses performing similar activities to theirs in the search area. Slightly more than half of the 2009 Corporate Survey respondents said yes, and more than half said this factor is very or somewhat important in their location decision (Figure 35).

Future Predictions
Just as our 2009 Corporate Survey results were being received (mid-October), the majority of economists were announcing that in their estimation the worse recession in decades was officially over, but the recovery was expected to be slow. A Conference Board report that the U.S. economic recovery was on track was further confirmed by late October government reports of a 3.5 percent pace of economic growth for the year's third quarter. In late December, the Commerce Department adjusted this figure to just 2.2 percent. Nevertheless, this ended four straight quarters of contracting economic activity - the first time that has happened in records dating back to 1947.

The federal government's cash-for-clunkers program had consumers heading out to trade in their gas-guzzlers and buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, and an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers put some zip back into the housing market. Spending on housing projects increased at an annualized rate of 23.4 percent, the largest jump since 1986.

Business also boosted spending on equipment and software at a 1.1 percent rate in the July-September 2009 period, representing the first increase in nearly two years. And as economies in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere began to improve, exports of U.S. goods soared to an annualized rate of 21.4 percent in the third quarter - the most since the final quarter of 1996. Now, with depleted inventories, businesses are expected to increase production.

"We are beginning to crawl out of a very deep hole," said economist Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics, at the end of October. "It will take time to get back to normal again and there are questions about how consumers will hold up in the months ahead. But I think the recovery will be sustained."

Will his prediction hold up? A true gauge of sustainable economic growth will be an uptick in hiring. As we go to press on this issue, there's encouraging news on the labor front: the unemployment rate edged back down to 10 percent in November from 10.2 percent in October. Employers also increased the hours of those who had not been laid off, putting more earnings in their pockets - all good news for consumer confidence and spending. Of course, it may take months to generate new jobs for the 15.4 million Americans officially out of work.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warns that unemployment could remain high even as moderate economic growth continues. Yet, moderate growth is better than the negative growth we've experienced over the last two years; and it may be just what's needed to increase our corporate executive readers' plans for expansion and new facilities and, ultimately, job creation. If that holds true, next year's Corporate Survey results will be more positive than this year's for those who can hold on for the bumpy economic ride.

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