But lots of opportunities are out there
I have read a number of mixed reports lately on business sentiment and it is hard to draw a strong conclusion on the state of the economy.
The current 2014 celebrations have resulted in noticeable buoyancy over the summer months (depending on your location and industry). Energy has been concentrated in Charlottetown through a one-time infusion of entertainment and Skills P.E.I. employment funding.
This summer has been a great celebration. The problem with any great party is that it eventually ends, and then a hangover ensues. Big celebrations are big investments; there is generally little residual benefit after the money is spent.
This week the Conference Board indicated that many Canadians are feeling less confident about the economy and employment prospects. The sensitivity was worse in Atlantic Canada where only 5.9 per cent of those surveyed expected there to be more jobs in the next six months.
To get some clarity on local market sentiment we sent a survey to our list of 800 business contacts. Of those who responded, 76 per cent were either not optimistic or neutral in their feeling for the next year. Fifty-three per cent did not expect to do any hiring in the next six months, 49 per cent stated the business environment was their biggest challenge in 2014, while 31 per cent suggested finding workers was their biggest challenge.
With the recent interest in Employment Insurance, I was curious to the impact of EI policy change. Ninty-five per cent of the respondents suggested the availability of workers had not changed since the implementation of new EI rules. Fifty per cent still indicated they were having difficulty finding employees.
With the seasonality of our economy, it would be interesting to retest the market after the busy summer season and see how the labour market is responding to employment insurance changes, temporary foreign worker program overhaul and a generally sluggish economy.
So what do all these studies and surveys suggest? Probably little. In my observation the trends are consistent everywhere, most economies are struggling to find their footing. Unemployment remains high, and structurally high for certain participants in the labour market.
In contrast to the challenges felt on the ground, capital markets continue to perform reasonably well and companies continue to generate and retain corporate profits.
I am certainly an advocate for corporate health, but we must also unlock corporate investment to stimulate local economies. When this occurs the cycle of benefit will be fulfilled and the full economy will prosper.
I would further advocate that periods of challenge offer the greatest opportunity. Under this line of logic, we are in a period of unprecedented opportunity. There will be transformation and difficulty; the opportunity for savvy business owners, entrepreneurs and the ambitious is to anticipate and capitalize on these movements.
Blake Doyle is The Guardian's small business columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.