BIA survey: Health, energy ‘major’ concerns

The cost of health care and energy are of major concern to New Hampshire businesspeople, more than taxes, regulations and labor unions, according to a Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire survey released Tuesday.Of course, the biggest concern of all is the state of the economy. And while more businesspeople think things will get better than worse, the difference is shrinking – a sign that hopes for a recovery are dimming.The report — and the BIA in its press release — described the overall mood of survey participants as “cautious but optimistic.”Some 31 percent of the 300 businesspeople participating in the survey (a third of them from businesses with fewer than 10 employees) said they think economic conditions will get better, while 21 percent think they will get worse. Last year, 47 percent expected an uptick, and 16 expected things to get worse.Even more disturbing was the outlook for hiring.Some 14 percent said they were going to hire more workers (5 percent expected cutting worker), compared to last year, when 19 percent expected their workforce to expand and 4 percent predicted it would shrink.The economy was by far the most important concern of businesspeople.Some 58 percent cited poor economic conditions or the lack of demand as their top concern. The costs of energy and health care were cited by 9 and 8 percent, respectively. (The cost of energy wasn’t mentioned last year.)But when asked specific questions about other concerns, and their importance, some 94 percent said the cost of energy was a concern, and 58 percent said it was a major concern.While 79 percent of those asked about taxes thought they were a concern, compared to 70 percent worried about health care costs, some 61 percent said health care was a major concern, while only 39 percent described taxes as a major problem.The survey also found there was slightly more concern about the condition of the state’s roads and bridges (65 percent) than the cost of complying with environmental regulations (61 percent), though about the same percentage of respondents (24 for roads, 25 for regulations) described them both as major concerns.Two big issues on many business groups’ agendas — right to work and workforce housing — were at the bottom of the list. Some 42 percent cited unions as a concern at all, and 13 percent said it was a major concern. Housing for employees was a concern of 40 percent of those surveyed, but 17 percent cited it as a major one.While there was not much difference between small (under 10) and “large” businesses when it came the economic outlook, there was a big difference over some issues.Some 86 percent of the larger businesses considered health care as a concern, compared to 66 percent of smaller businesses, presumably because larger business are more likely to contribute toward it.Some 72 percent of larger business said they consider the cost of complying with state labor laws as a concern, compared to 50 percent of small business. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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