Madison craft brewer Ale Asylum has more than doubled its staff this year and online apparel retailer Shopbop has added 50 employees, mostly in Madison. But they are the exception to the rule.
More Dane County businesses say they expect to show a profit for 2012 and their sales are higher than last year's. But most have not added workers.
Those results are part of the 2012 First Business Economic Survey being released Wednesday.
"I'd call this a positive report," said Scott Converse, director, project management for the UW-Madison School of Business.
The survey showed 47.9 percent of the Dane County companies responding said their profits will surpass last year's, up from 37.7 percent a year ago and the best showing since 2007. Sales revenues were higher than a year ago, 53.3 percent said, up from 50.3 percent last year.
Two-thirds of the business leaders, 67.7 percent, said their results either met or exceeded their expectations, compared with 53.4 percent, at this time last year.
"For the first time in, probably, five years, economic indicators are starting to show numbers that are at or near our pre-recession numbers," Converse said. "That's really good news."
The job picture did not show big gains but there were fewer workforce reductions among the Dane County companies polled. Only 23.1 percent said they hired more workers in 2012, while 19.9 percent cut staff, but that's the smallest percentage reporting layoffs since 2006.
Fewer companies spent more on building improvements and equipment but fewer reduced their capital expenditures; about half said their capital spending was about even with last year's.
Mark Meloy, First Business Bank president and chief executive officer, said the survey results reflect the conversations he has with bank clients.
"I think the efficiencies that businesses have been forced into over the past three to four years are paying off, as they have been able to increase revenues. Now the question is: When will investment in expansion start to take hold? I'm not sure anyone's able to answer that yet," Meloy said.
Ale Asylum has bucked the trend, building an $8 million brewery at 2102 Pankratz St. The bigger space lets the company ship its beer beyond Madison and Milwaukee and raise production from 9,999 barrels in 2011 to nearly 14,000 barrels this year. Ale Asylum employs 45, with 25 new hires this year.
The company's success is "a microcosm of the economy," said co-founder Otto Dilba. With the craft beer market growing every year, consumers are showing they are "more discerning about what they're willing to spend money on," Dilba said.
Clothing retailer Shopbop renovated a former factory at 1245 and 1301 E. Washington Ave. in 2011 and is already squeezed. "We anticipated this space to provide us what we needed until 2015 and we are out searching for additional warehousing space," said chief operating officer Helen Boyne.
She said Shopbop now has 350 employees, with about 300 in Madison and 50 in New York, and plans to add more than 100 in Madison in 2013.
Throughout the county, 27.6 percent of business leaders said they plan to hire more staff next year while only 10 percent expect job cuts.
The survey, conducted by the UW-Madison A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research, was sent in September to 4,080 Dane County businesses; 323 responded. The margin of error is 0.05 percent.