Chamber survey shows businesses "cautiously optimistic"

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- Cautiously optimistic. That's how nearly 300 business owners and employees are responding to a chamber survey about the economic future of Grand Junction.

Last spring, business owners were also cautiously optimistic, but their hopes didn't materialize, and they became less optimistic during the winter. Now, they're back to being hopeful the economy may be turning around, but for many, it's not enough to encourage expansion any time soon.

"I think we all kind of felt that pulse. People just weren't out, and we're thinking, 'maybe it was the weather,'" Candy Time Shoppe owner Elise Hall said of the first quarter. "We really were slow, much slower than I anticipated."

The 2013 sales year didn't quite start like Hall expected, but she wasn’t alone.

"I don't have a crystal ball. I'm just really hoping our Main Street picks up for the summer," Hall said.

Now warmer weather is starting to draw out the shoppers and optimism from local business owners. A recent Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce survey found businesses are “cautiously optimistic” the economy will improve this year, but 54 percent say the local economy is still weak.

"We would like to see it go over the top, but the numbers are just coming up slightly,” Clarion Inn general manager Darshann Ruckman said.

Though there's hope for the valley's economic future, it's not enough that owners are willing to spend money to grow their businesses.

"A lot of our people are still delaying any sort of capital expenditures, buying new copiers or renting that additional office space right next to them," chamber CEO Diane Schwenke said.

Still, for the first time since the recession, the chamber survey found more businesses say they'll be hiring in the next six months, with 24 percent of businesses hoping to employ at least one more person.

"We have been hiring, and I’m adding to all of my departments," Ruckman said. “It’s nice to start bringing people on and not having to worry about cutting hours.”

Many are looking for a busy summer like last, and April’s business numbers are helping to fuel those thoughts.

"Some of those sale orders are starting to come in; some of those hotel reservations for the summer were starting to come in," Schwenke said.

"JUCO is a big kick off for us. It’s our summertime party, and from there it just goes uphill," Ruckman added.

Businesses say consumer confidence will be key in their success, and ultimately being pessimistic isn't an option.

"It’s kind of hard to fall out of a basement. I'm just really hoping it was a rough winter," Hall said.

The survey is sent out twice a year to more than 1,400 business owners and employees. This year, the chamber received close to 270 responses.

This is the fifth consecutive year the chamber has sent out the surveys.

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