Amid recession talk, 90% of Madison businesses remain optimistic

First Business Bank did something different for its annual economic trends program, but one result — ongoing optimism among Madison businesses — hasn’t changed.

Instead of an annual survey taken in the fall, with the findings announced in early December, First Business decided instead to conduct live polls of attendees on seven economic and business questions during today’s program, held at Monona Terrace. Panel discussions on each topic were held as the polls were conducted via smartphones, and on the key question about business performance in 2023, nearly of 90% of the roughly 100 local businesses operators in attendance gave an upbeat response.

An equal percentage — 38.46% — expect better or the same performance in 2023 compared to a strong 2022, while 9.62% anticipate significantly better performance. Only 11.54% expect to fare worse in 2023, while just 1.92% anticipate a significantly worse performance.

That 88.54% of attendees were bullish on their own prospects for the new year is the outcome that stood out to Jim Hartlieb, president of First Business Bank. He views that as a sign that Madison’s historical resiliency to recessions will remain intact if or when a national downturn occurs.

“Absolutely, what stuck out to me, from the poll of our audience, was the optimism coming off of what we’ve seen as a very good year in 2022,” Hartlieb says. “About 90% of the attendees feel that next year is going to be as good or better, and that’s encouraging.”

Given all the forecasts of a national recession, Hartlieb agreed that Madison will remain at least somewhat if not completely immune from downward national trends. “In the audience today was a diverse cross-section of industries,” he notes. “We had nonprofits, construction, manufacturing, people in the service sector, and subcontractors … It’s not isolated in one company or one industry. This is a cross section, so I would say it feels like Madison continues to be resilient.”

Prior to the polling, attendees were given a big-picture view of the current economy by Nancy Johnshoy, senior vice president, portfolio manager, and market strategist for First Business Bank. Her takeaway from current trends that include higher inflation and an aggressive monetary response by the Federal Reserve, is that local business operators should anticipate a national slowdown despite strong local metrics such as low unemployment. “There are some signs,” she notes, “that higher interest rates are achieving the desired slowdown.”