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2018 Business Outlook Survey Results

How’s business shaping up in Oshkosh for 2018? That is the question we asked local CEOs, business managers and owners. While it is impossible to predict our economic future with a high degree of specificity, locally Oshkosh is doing well and has a position of strength in the marketplace. This past year, employment remained strong. According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the November 2017 unemployment rate for Oshkosh remains below the national unemployment rate of 3.9 percent at 2.7 percent. This translates to having 606 more Oshkosh residents working now than the same time last year.


The results of the Oshkosh Chamber’s Annual Business Outlook Survey, a barometer that we use to gauge the degree of confidence of business leaders, is further indication that local businesses are bullish on what the economy holds for 2018. Of the local CEOs and business owners who participated in our annual Business Outlook Survey, 76 percent reported that sales increased in 2017 over the previous year, 79 percent indicated that profits were up, and 86 percent increased wages. When asked to forecast sales for 2018, 88 percent believe that sales will out-perform the previous year’s sales level and 60 percent expect to add employees. While this is all very good news, business leaders report that finding qualified workers remains a challenge, with 40 percent indicating they are having trouble hiring qualified employees. This could a potential obstacle to economic growth in the years to come.


Manufacturers plan to increase their raw material inventories in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same quarter one year ago according to 92 percent of Oshkosh-based manufacturers. In the first quarter of 2018, 61 percent of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers anticipate are higher volume of finished goods inventory over 2017 fourth quarter levels. These are indications of an expected sales volume increase in the months to come.


Optimism is high and local CEOs believe that the business climate has improved. CEOs indicated that the State of Wisconsin is heading in the right direction in terms of the business climate according to 84 percent of the respondents and 76 percent indicated the US business climate in headed in the right direction which is contrasted by 59 percent believing that the US was headed in the right direction last year. However, challenges remain. Local CEOs indicated that legislative measures should be taken to improve their business and the state’s business climate. Local CEOs stated the top three public policy issues facing Wisconsin are increasing health care cost, the labor shortage/the lack of qualified applicants, and the current tax climate.


CEOs, business managers and owners are probably some of the most optimistic personality types. True to form, our survey found Oshkosh business leaders inclined to be bullish on 2018 and cited a lot of reasons for that perspective, including the defense contract production by Oshkosh Corporation, along with its selection of Oshkosh for their future corporate campus, the addition of the Menominee Nation Arena, the Wisconsin Herd (G-League developmental team), a diverse business base, an emerging information technology business sector, higher employment rates and stronger consumer confidence. This should be a boost for the marketplace. There appears to be good traction in the business community. Businesses are focusing on growth and addressing challenges. Moving forward, we will build on the great gains and achievements of the business community to solidify and generate economic growth. 


John Casper

President & CEO

Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce