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Faded confidence

Three years ago, Rochester-area executives participating in the Siena College Research Institute Upstate New York Business Leaders Survey were the most optimistic of any upstate metropolitan area. Not anymore.

As reported in this week’s paper, the RBJ-Siena Business Leaders Survey, a component of the upstate survey, found a decidedly downcast view among local executives. Indeed, Rochester was the only one of four upstate markets where the confidence of business leaders fell in 2013.

The biggest factor was future confidence, which plummeted more than 13 points to 88.1—well below the optimism/pessimism break-even point of 100.

What accounts for the gloomier mood here? When asked what challenges faced by their firms concern them most, the Rochester business leaders cite government regulation, health care costs and taxes. But executives throughout the upstate region also named these as the top three, in roughly the same percentages.

In terms of revenues, profits and employment, most local employers think they will grow moderately or remain the same. Again, the results from survey respondents throughout Upstate New York are not much different.

In fact, when compared with the results of the previous year’s survey, Rochester business leaders are more upbeat about revenue and profit expectations and only slightly less upbeat about the hiring outlook.

Mr. Levy points to the psychological impact of events such as Eastman Kodak Co.’s bankruptcy reorganization and the acquisition of Bausch & Lomb Inc. by Valeant Pharmaceuticals Inc. He also notes that unlike the other upstate markets, Rochester no longer has a dominant industry sector.

Yet even given these factors, the turn toward a more pessimistic view is striking—and surprising.

After all, the Rochester economy has proved to be remarkably resilient in the face of wrenching changes at Kodak and other key employers. Now, more than at any time in several decades, the potential for growth seems clear.

Opportunities exist, and some businesses will seize them. Let’s hope a good number of those that do reside here.

1/24/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]

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