First Business Bank building

First Business Bank's annual economic survey of Dane County shows employers are optimistic about 2018.

JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL ARCHIVES

If you got a pay raise this year, you are not alone.

More than three-fourths of employers in the Madison area who responded to a poll said they paid their employees more money than last year, and about as many said they’ll increase wages again in 2018.

The annual First Business Economic Survey of Dane County shows a majority of employers who responded to the poll said they plan to add staff and boost paychecks next year, and they think their businesses will be more profitable at the same time.

“Our 15th annual First Business Economic Survey shows widespread optimism for 2018 among Dane County business leaders,” said Mark Meloy, First Business Bank CEO. “We are also encouraged to see that Dane County business leaders plan new investments in their workforce in 2018.”

Nearly half of the business leaders surveyed — 48 percent — said they added jobs this year, while 11 percent cut staff.

For 2018, even more employers, 53 percent, said they expect to do more hiring. That’s the highest percentage in 15 years. Only 2 percent said they expect to reduce staff.

Meanwhile, 78 percent of those polled said they gave their staff wage hikes this year, and 76 percent said they’ll offer higher pay in 2018.

The survey did not ask how much employers pay their workers, on average.

At the same time, sales and profitability were up.

Just over half of the employers, 52 percent, said their earnings rose this year, and 59 percent said they anticipate higher profits in 2018. Nearly two-thirds of the executives — 65 percent — saw their sales climb in 2017, and 75 percent think the increase will continue into 2018.

In manufacturing, optimism is running high, the poll shows. Ninety percent of the manufacturing business leaders who replied project higher sales in 2018. That’s the highest percentage since the survey began 15 years ago.

Manufacturers said they plan to boost staffing and wages, as well. Seventy-one percent of manufacturers expect to raise their employee count in 2018 and as many as 95 percent said they will raise employee pay — also the highest figure since the survey started.

Overall, by a 4-to-1 margin, business leaders said their companies’ performance in 2017 lived up to or exceeded their expectations; only 20 percent said it’s been a worse year for their businesses than they had anticipated.

Higher operating costs were the biggest problem for those who were disappointed in this year’s outcome; a shortage of skilled job applicants was second. Those who saw improved performance by their companies credited increased marketing, internal efficiencies and a boost in sales effort.

The executives polled said that for next year, they plan to diversify their client base, create a process for generating innovative business ideas, and create or expand a leadership training curriculum for their companies.

In Dane County, 214 company leaders completed the survey during a six-week period from late September through early November. The survey was conducted by Altsech Consulting for First Business Bank.

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Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.