Small Business Economic Trends Report

Date: September 01, 2021

Quarterly update on NFIB Wisconsin Small Businesses

The NFIB Research Center released a quarterly Small Business Economic Trends industry report highlighting the construction, manufacturing, retail, and services industries. NFIB’s July Small Business Economic Trends report showed the overall Optimism Index at 99.7.


“Here’s what this report lays out for Wisconsin small business owners. Some sectors of the small business economy are doing better than others,” said Bill G. Smith, NFIB State Director in Wisconsin. “However, the survey results also clearly show that the uncertainty in the economy after the COVID pandemic is far from over. There are still many challenges to our small business economy including the biggest hurdle right now: finding qualified workers.”


Key findings include:


  • The Optimism Index for July was 98.8, up 1.4 points from April’s quarterly report but behind the overall Optimism Index by 0.9 points.
  • Small business owners in the construction industry had the highest percentage of unfilled job openings among all industries at 61%.
  • The demand for new construction remains high-driven by historically low interest rates however, the struggle to hire qualified workers had led to an inability to form work teams and begin permitted projects to meet demand.
  • Fifty-nine percent of the job openings in the industry are for skilled workers and 66% of construction firms reported few or no qualified applicants.
  • Sixty-five percent of construction firms reported raising prices in July.
  • Earnings trends in construction fell 12 points from the previous quarter to a net negative 22%.


  • The July Optimism Index for manufacturing was 105.2, up from 104.8 in April and 5.5 points above the overall Optimism Index, showing that the manufacturing industry continues to be more optimistic compared to other industries in its recovery from the pandemic.
  • Sixty percent of manufacturing firms reported unfilled job openings, second only to the construction industry and 11 percentage points higher than overall.
  • A net 41% of firms plan to create new jobs in the next three months, 14 percentage points higher than the overall small business economy.
  • A net 9% of manufacturing owners expect higher sales in the next three months, compared to a net negative 4% overall.


  • The retail industry’s July Optimism Index was 100.4, 0.7 points higher than overall but down two points from April.
  • Earnings trends in retail fell 11 points from the previous quarter to a net negative 9%.
  • Retail owners’ expectations about economic conditions over the next six months declined nine points to a net negative 22%.
  • A net 20% of retailers report current inventory levels “too low,” compared to a net 12% of all small businesses.
  • The retail industry is increasing inventory levels as a net 13% plan to increase inventories over the next three to six months, seven points above all firms.


  • The service sector Optimism Index increased in July to 100.2, 0.5 points above the overall index.
  • Retail owners are concerned about future sales over the next three months as the net percent of owners expecting higher sales fell 11 points from April to a net negative 1% of owners.
  • A net negative 19% expect better business conditions six months from now, a decline of 11 points from April.

The full survey is available here.





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