By Steve Jagler Special to Published Jul 20, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Southeastern Wisconsin business executives are more optimistic about the direction of their companies in the second half of the year than they were when the year began, according to the latest BizTimes Business Dashboard Survey.

The majority of readers responding to the survey expect gains in revenues, profits and hiring in the second half of the year, according to the new survey. Nearly 200 decision-makers from area firms participated in the mid-year survey.

In the new survey, 73.0 percent of respondents projected more revenue for their companies in 2012 over last year, up from 65.5 percent last December, when the first Dashboard Survey was launched. The number of employers who expected decreased revenues for 2012 increased slightly to 11.0 percent from 8.3 percent. The number of companies projecting flat revenues for 2012 fell to 16.0 percent from 26.3 percent in December.

Overall respondents' optimism remains high, with 63.3 percent (up from 62.2 percent) expecting to see an increase in company profits in 2012, while 18.4 percent (down from 28.8 percent) predicted profits to remain flat and 15.3 percent (up from 9.0 percent) are projecting profit declines.

On another more positive note, the survey showed hiring is on the upswing. More than half of the respondents (54 percent) are planning to add staff in 2012 (up from 43.5 percent in December). The number projecting flat hiring trends fell to 41.7 percent from 51.1 percent. The number expecting to cut staff in 2012 fell to 4.3 percent from 5.4 percent six months ago.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • 36.4 percent will make significant investments in equipment in 2012 (up from 26.3 percent).
  • 20.9 percent will expand their office/plant space in 2012 (up from 12.0 percent).
  • 9.3 percent will move to a new location in 2012 (up from 7.2 percent).
  • 38.8 percent will provide an employee wellness program in 2012 (up from 32.5 percent).
  • 51.6 percent expect their health care benefit costs will increase by up to 10 percent (up from 49.3 percent, while 20.1 percent expect those costs to rise up to 20 percent (up from 15.9 percent). Of those expecting higher health care benefit costs, 46.5 percent will pass along some of those costs to employees (down from 47.1 percent).
  • 63.6 percent will increase their investments in branding, advertising, and marketing in 2012 (up from 62.0 percent).
  • 56.4 percent have a company social media strategy (up from 56.3 percent).
  • 14.3 percent have a customized smart phone "app" (up from 9.5 percent).
  • 68.7 percent will provide employee pay raises in 2012 (up from 62.1 percent).
  • 55.9 percent will increase the prices of their goods and services (down from 57.3 percent).
  • 73 percent believe the state's business climate will improve in 2012 (up from 51.8 percent).

The open comments by the respondents in the survey reflected the state's political divide. Many respondents praised Gov. Scott Walker's job reforms, while others expressed frustration and political fatigue.

"Wisconsin is moving forward with Walker in office," said Antonija Mitt, of TBG Networks LLC. "The same pro-business, pro-growth strategy needs to happen nationally."

Brion Collins of Lake Country Wealth Management said, "Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, finally!"

"I believe Scott Walker has set this state back by a generation, in so many ways," said one respondent, who asked not to be named. "He is turning Wisconsin into Mississippi, where the teachers are underpaid, the people are uneducated, the workforce is cheap, the environment is neglected and the infrastructure is crumbling. Other than that, he's one heck of a governor."

Ivan Nagode of Ivan's House of Kitchens said, "Many in the business community who think Scott Walker's administration will be improving our state economy are in for a rude shock."

Steve Jagler Special to

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at