Spokane Journal of Business

Chamber poll tries to grasp tough times

Most say market conditions are adverse, though many report light at end of tunnel

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Initial results of a new Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce telephone survey hint that at least three of every five chamber members have been impacted negatively by recent economic trends and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Marty Dickinson, the chambers vice president of marketing, says that in recent weeks, chamber employees have contacted via telephone 403 membersroughly a quarter of the organizations membershipto determine how businesses are faring in the current economic climate and how the chamber can help during tough economic times.

The chamber now is in the process of tallying those results, and expects to complete that process later this month, Dickinson says.

As of earlier this week, 143 of the surveys had been tallied. Of those initial results, 87 respondents, or 61 percent, commented that their business had suffered negative impacts in recent months. Thirty-seven, or 26 percent, said their business has been positive in recent months, while 10 percent were neutral. The comments of the remaining 3 percent, a total of four respondents, all of which were restaurants, were interpreted by the chamber to mean that their businesses were recovering, after having slumped badly in the weeks immediately following the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Dickinson says she believes that once all of the results are tallied, the percentage of positive assessments likely will increase, though she thinks negative comments still will account for more than half of all of the assessments.

While a majority of the surveyed businesses in the chamber poll have suffered and are facing adversity now, Dickinson says, I was impressed with peoples optimism for the future and impressed with the fact that people were working smart to survive. She adds, People said they were hit hard, and that September and October were tough, but they see the light at the end of the tunnel and that things will improve.

In the survey, the chamber asked members five open-ended questionstwo regarding current economic conditions and three regarding the members relationship with the chamber. The two economic questions were, What are your greatest concerns regarding todays economy? and How does it relate to your business?

In tallying the results, chamber employees are interpreting those comments as positive, negative, neutral, or recovering, and compiling them into business categories and sectors.

The 13 sectors include: financial, food service, medical, high technology, media and marketing, construction, business services, manufacturing, hospitality, nonprofit, retail, real estate, and agriculture.

In the initial results, businesses in two sectorsfinancial and high technologyreported more positive business trends than negative ones. Jeff Selle, the chambers program coordinator for regulatory affairs, who participated in the polling, says that mortgage companies have buoyed the financial sectors results, mostly because lower interest rates have spurred home loans and mortgage refinancings in recent months.

The chamber declines to disclose comments by individual members. It says, however, that a mortgage lender at a small company here said, Technically, we are in a recession, but people are doing pretty good despite that.

Selle says high-technology companies, such as computer hardware and software dealers and distributors, said that many companies are needing to update current systems, despite tough economic times. He says some predict a resurgence in that market within months.

In contrast, companies in four sectorsmedia and marketing, hospitality, nonprofit, and agricultureunanimously reported negative impacts.

A representative of a broadcasting company said advertising buys from national accounts have slowed and that, National brands had pulled back prior to Sept. 11.

While hospitality companies reported adverse market conditions, they said that business travel has recovered for the most part.

The questions regarding the chambers role in helping members read, How can the chamber partner with you and other community businesses to address these concerns? and As a chamber member, what would you like to see from the chamber in the year 2002? The third and final question involved membership renewal.

In answering the second set of questions, many businesses asked the chamber to continue to promote economic development and to stay involved in public-policy issues, Dickinson says. Some also asked the chamber to step up its educational services, such as small-business forums or discussions on complex energy issues, among others.

Dickinson says that though the survey is being wrapped up, the chamber plans to poll its members regularlyperhaps monthlyin the future on a variety of topics.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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