70 Percent of Chicago Small Business Owners Plan to Grow Their Business

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The FINANCIAL — Chicago small business owners are optimistic about their ability to grow their own businesses, according to the spring 2015 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study exploring the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners in the Chicago area and around the country.

Seventy percent of Chicago small business owners plan to grow their business over the next five years (up 11 percent from a year ago), and 64 percent expect their revenue to increase in the year ahead (up from 59 percent one year ago).

Chicagoland entrepreneurs are more confident than counterparts in other parts of the country when it comes to local, national and global economies. According to the survey, 56 percent of Chicago small business owners are assured that their local economy will improve in the next 12 months (49 percent nationally), 58 percent are positive about the national economy (48 percent nationally) and 46 percent are optimistic about the global economy (35 percent nationally).

More Chicagoland small business owners feel they have recovered from, or were never impacted by, the Great Recession than any other market surveyed (40 percent compared to 33 percent nationally).

Issues that plagued them in the past are of less concern today. Chicago small business owners are significantly less concerned about the following issues than they were six months ago:

Health care costs (69 percent versus 73 percent).
The effectiveness of U.S. government leaders (60 percent versus 70 percent).
The strength of the U.S. dollar (47 percent versus 72 percent).

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“It’s great to see how confident Chicago small business owners feel about their business and the economy,” said Jim Holmes, small business banker manager for Bank of America. “Bank of America is committed to fostering the optimism that local Chicago entrepreneurs show by providing them with the tools and resources they need to help grow their businesses.”

Chicago entrepreneurs support employees but encounter challenges in hiring

Almost all (96 percent) Chicago small business owners have employee appreciation programs, including:

Dinners and outings (53 percent).
Office recognition (44 percent).
Spot bonuses (40 percent).

They also provide a number of benefits for employees, including:

Flexible hours (54 percent).
Closure on major holidays (51 percent).
Salary bonuses (50 percent).

When looking at staffing, 51 percent of Chicago entrepreneurs say they expect to hire more employees this year, with 39 percent planning to keep the same number of employees. Though the majority plan to hire, 42 percent of Chicago small business owners say it’s difficult to find qualified candidates. The top challenges in finding qualified staff are attributed to:

A skills gap (57 percent).
High salary demands (39 percent).
A preference among potential employees to work for a large or mid-size brand (38 percent).

Local community and small business owners shop close to home

Chicago small business owners overwhelmingly support other local small businesses in the community by shopping small. Seventy-two percent of Chicago small business owners gave themselves an “A” or “B” grade for shopping at other local small businesses, which is nine points higher than the national average. They also rate their local community high in shopping small, as 66 percent handed out an “A” or “B” grade when assessing how well Chicago residents frequent local small businesses.

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