By Steve Jagler Special to Published Jul 06, 2011 at 4:01 PM
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

Soaring oil prices, rising commodity costs, a cold spring, chaos in the Middle East and the uncertainty about the national debt ceiling conspired to dampen the U.S. economic recovery in the second quarter.

So, will all of these factors lead to a double-dip recession? Or did the economy merely catch its breath as it continues to rebound?

The cover story of the next issue of BizTimes Milwaukee magazine on Friday will answer those questions and more.

As a sneak peek, however, I'll offer here today some reasons to keep the faith that the U.S. economy continues on the path of recovery, albeit not as quickly as any of us would like.

The rate of growth in manufacturing activity in the southern Wisconsin / northern Illinois region slowed down a bit in June from the previous month, but continues to grow, according to the latest Institute of Supply Management-Milwaukee Survey.

The June seasonally adjusted Milwaukee-area PMI was 59, down from May's seasonally adjusted index of 62. However, any rate over 50 indicates growth.

The manufacturing sector has been leading this recovery. That bodes particularly well for Wisconsin, as its economy is inordinately reliant upon manufacturing.

The local June PMI showed growth in manufacturing new orders, production, employment, supplier deliveries and exports.

The resurgence of the American automotive industry is having a positive spill-over effect for the Wisconsin manufacturers that supply parts to Detroit.

Meanwhile, American small business owners are shifting their focus from surviving to capitalizing on growth opportunities, and they're expecting to hire more and make necessary capital investments in their firms, according to the spring American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor.

Among the most recent findings in the survey:

  • More than one-third of small business owners have plans to hire (35 percent), up nine percentage points from last fall and the highest level since the fall 2008 survey.
  • Four-in-10 plan to make capital investments (44 percent, on par with 48 percent last spring and up from 38 percent last fall).
  • Many expect to grow (37 percent) and are willing to take a financial risk to do so (56 percent).

The American Express survey is amplified by the 2011 U.S. Bank Small Business Annual Survey, which found that small business owners nationwide say the economy is starting to improve, but many feel the recession is still lingering.

In the countless conversations I have with BizTimes readers, a common thread is often repeated. When I ask them how their company is doing, the reply is usually something along the lines of, "A lot better than last year. Things are moving the right direction."

Indeed, business optimism is rising, according to the latest Robert Half Professional Employment Report. Ninety-two percent of executives interviewed for report said they are confident in their firms' growth prospects in the third quarter of 2011, up from 86 percent who were confident in the second quarter.

But when I ask our readers how they feel about the overall economy, the response is usually more muted and less optimistic.

My guess is that collective outlook and mood are not likely to improve until the housing market bounces back and the unemployment rate dips below 8 percent.

Until then, we'll just have to keep fighting the good fight.

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