University to start tracking local business trends

Monday, July 24, 2006

A new business trend survey is intended to take some of the guesswork out of gauging the complete economic picture of Cape Girardeau County, according to those proposing the idea.

The survey, expected to begin in September, will ask business owners to log onto a Web site and answer questions about general business conditions, said Dr. Bruce Domazlicky, director of Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Economic and Business Research.

"We want real-time data every month," said Domazlicky, who is overseeing the surve y tentatively titled Survey Cape. "We went to get a real feel for what the economy's doing."

Business owners will answer questions on whether sales are up or down, employment figures have changed and how those figures compare to those from a year ago. The survey will also ask business owners to predict how those figures will change in the following six months.

"These are the people down in the trenches, making the business decisions," Domazlicky said. "They're the ones actually involved in sales and manufacturing."

Domazlicky plans to prepare monthly reports that will be distributed to the media and area chambers of commerce.

No such information exists anywhere presently, Domazlicky said. The closest thing is employment data that is usually a few months old. Even then, the information is always subject to revision, causing Domazlicky to question its reliability.

Participation is key. Domazlicky said it would take between 100 and 200 participants across a broad spectrum of businesses to validate the survey.

Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Mehner said the chamber had been trying to figure out a way to get this information when Domazlicky approached him.

Mehner especially likes that the survey asks business owners to make predictions.

"It's always good to have some forecasting opinions," Mehner said. "I've had 10 or 12 people I ask, but this should give us a broader perspective."

The survey will provide another tool for both the Cape Girardeau and Jackson chambers to use, Mehner said. He said there are two existing numbers that they use -- employment data and sales-tax figures.

"If we put the results we get from this survey along with those numbers, I think we'll get a pretty good picture," Mehner said.

Businesses can then use the information to make decisions, such as whether it's a good time to expand or better to wait until the economy improves, Domazlicky said.

"It will help the business owners make better-informed opinions," he said.

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