According to the annual Business Pulse Survey by SunTrust, seventy-three percent of surveyed U.S. business leaders say the outlook for their own business is strong. To bolster their competitiveness, business leaders say they are focusing on three top priorities – evolving the technical skills of employees, focusing on cash management, and preparing for potential mergers and acquisitions (M&A).
Nearly half of the surveyed employers (46 percent) are highly concerned with attracting and retaining talent, and 93 percent are taking active steps to hire and keep qualified employees.
“Companies are becoming more employee-focused as the talent war continues and the unemployment rate remains at an all-time low,” said Jason Cagle, head of Commercial Banking for SunTrust. “Not only are they focused on attracting employees, but also on empowering existing talent. This starts with training employees to address the rise in emerging technologies. This is key to ensure businesses are able to compete for talent and are better positioned to handle changes in the economy.”
Business Actions Taken by Companies to Attract/Retain Employees:
45% – Increased Wages
43% – Increased Benefits
36% – Offering more flexible work arrangements
31% – Training current employees to fill vacant positions
24% – Hiring more employees that take upfront training
23% – Offering additional recognition programs
17% – Offering College Loan Repayment and/or College Savings Programs
The survey of leaders at U.S. companies reporting annual revenue of $5 million – $250 million found that the pace of technological evolution is driving leaders to make technical training a critical priority in 2019. More than half (54 percent) cited a lag in technology as a top barrier for achieving business goals, a 14-point increase from last year. To adapt to the rise in automation and leverage emerging technologies, more than three in four business leaders (77 percent) plan to invest heavily in learning and development programs that will empower their current workforce to acquire new skills and fill new roles as their companies grow.
SunTrust also found that cash management will be a feature of the short-term strategy of many companies. Financial decision-makers anticipate an increased need to build cash reserves in the upcoming year, with 37 percent planning to use excess cash to pay down debt and 35 percent planning to use excess cash in 2019 to build up their cash reserves. Already, 50 percent of survey participants say they have invested excess cash from Federal Tax Reform back into their businesses.
When looking at their long-term growth strategy, businesses are increasingly turning to M&A. The survey found that 28 percent of middle-market leaders have identified M&A as a top growth strategy, up from 26 percent in 2018 and 20 percent in 2017.
“While companies are continuing to focus on organic growth in the short-term, their leaders are planning to increase M&A activity over the next five years. They see that as a key way to accelerate growth in the long-term. Given the impending wave of retirements of Baby Boomer business owners, we see this as a critical moment for business leaders to look at M&A,” Cagle added.
Decision-makers representing more than 500 U.S. small and mid-size businesses participated in the SunTrust/Radius Global Market Research survey fielded January 22 – February 1, 2019. Survey results have a maximum margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.