Positive outlook for Philly businesses, but competition and compensation are still worries

 This is the strongest reading of general business activity the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has registered since it started conducting the survey in 2010. (Courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia)

This is the strongest reading of general business activity the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has registered since it started conducting the survey in 2010. (Courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia)

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve has released its annual survey of members of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce on business conditions in the region.

The bottom line: businesses are feeling good and don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

“Respondents were very positive about growth in 2014,” said Elif Sen, senior economic analyst at the Philly Fed. “And they were even more optimistic about growth in 2015.”

Economic activity continued to trend upward for businesses across diverse sectors including professional and business services, financial activities, hospitality, education, and manufacturing. New orders, revenues, and hiring all rose in 2014.

“We had just under three-quarters of respondents saying that activity increased in 2014, so that’s a very strong reading and a good sign for our region.”

That’s evidence of what many people felt but couldn’t prove — that the Philadelphia-area economy is improving, Sen said.

Businesses also said they will hire more full-time workers in 2015, though part-time work is expected to decrease. According to Sen, that’s a good sign.

“I think that’s a pretty positive result that indicates to me that businesses are more willing to commit to their full-time employees, and they’re looking to add to their full-time staff over the next year and maybe not rely so much on part-time employees,” she said.

It wasn’t all happy news however.

The top problem respondents expect to face in the new year is domestic competition, which Sen chalked up to standard operating procedure for businesses.

But two other top concerns listed were employee wages and benefits.

Last year saw further implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which tightened the rules on businesses providing health care to employees.

“With more recent regulations like the ACA coming into play, figuring out how to pay for employee benefits is going to be a problem for businesses to figure out and work into their bottom lines,” said Sen.

Also recently, New Jersey and Delaware both increased their statewide minimum wages, and last year Philadelphia hiked its minimum pay for for city workers and subcontractors.

Despite their concerns, businesses that responded to the survey are roundly expecting a positive year in 2015.

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