CEO Confidence Holding Steady Across Upstate NY in 2019

Partner Voices Blog: Siena College Research Institute and The Business Council of NYS

Business leaders across Upstate New York have slightly more confidence in the future of the local economy than last year, but still haven’t reached ideal levels of enthusiasm. And CEOs in Buffalo express far less confidence than their counterparts in Syracuse, Rochester, and the Capital Region.

That’s according to the latest Upstate New York Business Leader Survey from the Siena College Research Institute. Results of the survey, which is sponsored by The Business Council of New York State, were showcased in a Feb. 5 event hosted by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership during its annual CEOs Speak event, presented by Tompkins Bank of Castile.

This year’s event included remarks from Don Levy, Ph.D., the director of Siena College Research Institute and featured a panel discussion with:

  • Heather Briccetti, the President and CEO of The Business Council of New York State
  • Stewart Haney, the CEO of Wendel
  • Beth Sears, the President of Workplace Communication Inc.
  • Art Wingerter, the President of Univera Healthcare and the chairman of the Partnership’s Board of Directors.
CEOs Speak Panelists

L to R: Art Wingerter, Stewart Haney, Beth Sears, Heather Briccetti, and Dr. Don Levy


About the Survey

This year’s survey marks the twelfth in a series of annual surveys, providing 12 years of contextual trend data that stretches back before the most recent recession and is inclusive of three different U.S. presidential administrations.

The Index of Business Leader Confidence—which is computed based on interviews with 427 leaders of private, for-profit companies in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and the Capital Region—stands at 96.6. That’s down from 97.1 last year and still below 100, which is the “break even” point at which overall optimism and pessimism toward current and future economic conditions are balanced.

“Across Upstate, business leader confidence stayed virtually unchanged and remains just below the magic breakeven point this year,” Dr. Levy said. “Despite holding steady overall, the future expectations of CEOs are the lowest we’ve seen in six years.”

“We are seeing several significant recurring themes,” Briccetti said. “While business leaders feel confident in how they are addressing factors within their control, they still feel that a major burden is being imposed by New York State, with little expectation of relief. To us, the message is clear: the state needs to both promote economic growth and reduce self-imposed economic headwinds.”

Dr. Don Levy

Dr. Don Levy

A Look at CEO Confidence in Government

According to Dr. Levy, Upstate CEOs continue to have little confidence in state governments efforts to enhance business conditions—but their view of the federal government is quite different.

“Upstate CEOs continue to call on state government to cut spending, curtail regulation, reform workers compensation, and enact ethics reform, but they feel that the state is moving in the wrong direction on each of those,” he said. “By contrast, more than half give the federal government a thumbs up for creating a successful business climate. Two years ago, that number was a nearly invisible 7 percent.”

While a large majority of the CEOs surveyed said America is on the right track when it comes to economic health and business taxes, more than half said that the country is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to the cost of health care and the federal budget deficit.

Buffalo CEOs who participated in the survey overwhelmingly gave poor grades to state government again this year. A full 90 percent said that state government is doing a fair or poor job of creating a business climate in which companies like theirs can succeed—and 88 percent are not very or not at all confident in the ability of state government to improve the business climate over the next year.

CEOs Project Modest Growth in 2019

CEO responses to the survey reflect the reality of modest economic growth across upstate New York. The survey also showed a sharp drop in the percentage of Upstate CEOs who said that, if they had it to do all over again, they would choose to locate their business in New York. Just 66 percent said they felt their company would still be in business in New York State in 10 years.

Survey results from Buffalo CEOs showed:

  • 44 percent expect revenue growth in the coming year
  • 31 percent expect growth in profits
  • 43 percent said they intend to increase their workforce
  • 9 percent said they plan to decrease their workforce
  • 53 percent said they plan to invest in fixed assets in 2019

“Importantly, businesses are continuing to make capital investments in order to improve productivity—but most are projecting modest job growth and moderate sales growth for 2019,” Briccetti said. “Not surprisingly, employers remain concerned about their ability to obtain skilled workers.”

Learn More

Click through the presentation below to learn more about the results of the 2018 survey.


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