Divining the lay of the land

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The recession certainly took a toll. [But] despite their pessimistic outlook, Americans are resilient. They will find a way to rise above financial challenges.” –Keith Brannan, vice president of financial security planning, Country Financial

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As I’ve noted before in this space, it’s not been a pleasant year in many respects (and THAT is putting it VERY mildly) for the trucking industry and for the U.S. as a whole.

Right now, as we start to look at 2012, the economic portents are cloudy at best and decidedly dark at worst, with the threat of defaults by both Greece and Italy fueling concerns that a second recession my indeed come to pass.

That aside, however, there’s some good news to be had amidst the gloom – especially in terms of how the freight picture might shape up for next year.

For example, take the "positive vibe" exuded from a survey of 300 small business owners along the Eastern seaboard (Maine to Florida) conducted by TD Bank. Now, small businesses struggle mightily in times like these as they simply don’t have the resources (or the clout) large companies can access.

ORC International conducted this poll for TD Bank, surveying 300 companies with 50 or fewer employees and annual sales of no more than $5 million. Yet despite their size, some 66% of them believe they will meet or exceed revenue projections in the upcoming quarter – a slight increase from the 57% that met or exceeded revenue projections during their most recent fiscal quarter.

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And although two-thirds of American small businesses said they are not optimistic about the economy, a majority (69%) expected to keep staffing levels the same over the next quarter, with 16% saying they plan to add at least one position.

“American small business owners are a resilient group,” noted Fred Graziano (at left), head of regional commercial banking, government banking and small business at TD Bank. “Despite the economic obstacles they continue to face, these findings indicate that small business owners and employees continue to do what they can to exceed their business goals – not just to make ends meet.”

Here’s another dollop for the confidence file gleaned from TD Bank’s poll: Overall, small business owners in the survey remain committed to investing in their business, with nearly 75% expecting to maintain or increase capital investments over the next quarter.

When asked to best describe their future plans for their business, 64% said they will look to stay afloat or significantly grow in the next five years, with only 11% planning to sell or shutdown their business altogether, according to the bank’s poll.

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Of course, that doesn’t mean these owners are wearing rose colored glasses – not by any stretch of the imagination.

Indeed, they are very specific about the challenges they expect to face over the next six months, saying rising healthcare and insurance costs (22%) remain their biggest business concerns, followed by declining sales (21%), retaining and growing their client base (21%), and cash flow concerns (19%) are their top worries. Fewer believe rising energy costs (10%) and pressure from larger competitors (7%) represent the greatest challenges.

Now, for sure, this is a very small sample from a specific region of the U.S. Yet still, if there’s confidence among the little guys in business despite strengthening economic headwinds and other travails, the lay of the freight landscape just down the road might be better than we think.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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