Calhoun County business leaders think 2015 will be a profitable year, but they don’t plan to spend much of that money on new employees or expansions, according to a recent survey by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.
The survey’s results were presented Wednesday at the chamber’s annual economic forum, held this year at the Civilian Marksmanship Program building in Anniston.
Mark Hearn, professor of management and marketing at Jacksonville State University’s College of Commerce and Business Administration, which completed the survey and analyzed local economic data for Wednesday’s report, said local business owners are optimistic they’ll have a better year.
It won’t be a record-breaking year, however, Hearn said, because the local economy continues to recover from the 2008 recession.
“They’re just saying it’s coming back,” Hearn said.
Of chamber members questioned, 65 percent said 2015 will be a better year for business than 2014. That’s up from 56 percent who said the same about 2014.
Sales are expected to be up in 2015 as well, according to the survey results, with 68 percent looking for an increase this year in the demand for their products and services.
“Most people are saying, ‘we’ve got the people we need right now’,” Hearn said.
Along with fewer new hires, those business owners also don’t plan to expand much in 2015, with 84 percent saying they would leave the size of their business the same this year.
More troubling still, the per capita income of Calhoun County residents is low when compared to the rest of the state, Hearn explained. The county ranked 66th out of 67 counties, with a per capita income of $32,432 in 2013, the last year for which such data is available.
Cutbacks at Anniston Army Depot, the county’s largest employer, continue to drag down the local economy, Hearn said.
Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said depot jobs have fallen from a peak in 2008 of 7,500 to 3,900 in April, after another round of layoffs there will send 190 workers home for good.
“Those are some very tough numbers,” Hearn said.
Leaving the depot and its federal jobs out of the equation, looking at only private sector jobs, Calhoun County is faring much better, Hearn explained.
“Hours worked per week and hourly wages are moving up,” Hearn said. “Which suggests that companies do have work.”
The county’s unemployment rate improved slightly, Hearn said, with a rate of 6.1 percent in December 2013 and 5.8 percent the following December.
Hearn noted, however, that the county’s employment rate, in comparison with pre-recession numbers, remains behind all other metro areas in the state. The county’s employment rate in December 2014 was down 15.9 percent compared to its peak in 2007, before the recession.
“Everybody else has come back … but we’ve gone down further,” Hearn said.
The employment rate may still be down from pre-recession highs, but some local business owners express optimism that they’ll hire more in the months and years to come.
“2015 is starting out really, really well,” said Jenny Tunstall, vice president and co-owner of Garcy Manufacturing in Piedmont. “Things are looking much better.”
Tunstall and her husband, Sam Tunstall, bought the Piedmont plant in 2012 from Garcy’s former parent company, Leggett & Platt. Sam Tunstall had worked as plant manager there for 13 years before buying the business, which makes high-end metal finishings for retail displays and other products.
It’s a small company. The Tunstalls started in 2012 with 30 employees and have since expanded the company’s offerings to include metal finishings for hotels, home and office furnishings.
Having acquired those new markets, Garcy saw a 43 percent jump in the number of employees from 2012 to 2015. The company now employs 43 full-time workers and pays temp workers as workloads demand.
“We’ve really opened up three more markets that didn’t exist here,” Sam Tunstall said Wednesday. “We’ve been very blessed, and it’s gone really well.”