Ontario Chamber of Commerce survey shows companies have more faith in own futures

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By Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen, January 29, 2013

OCC Emerging Stronger

OTTAWA — As Kathleen Wynne takes the reins as premier, the province’s business community warns Ontario is facing a “clutch moment.”

Industries that once made us strong are now struggling. Our finances are faltering under the weight of a massive deficit and nearly $300 billion in provincial debt. And half a million of us don’t have jobs.

But it’s not all bad: Ontario has the highest level of post-secondary credential attainment in the OECD, the manufacturing sector is rebounding, and the Ring of Fire in northwestern Ontario is touted as the most promising mining opportunity for Canada in a generation.

“The world is moving quickly and Ontario, not unlike some other jurisdictions, is at a crossroads,” said Allan O’Dette, the president and chief executive of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

For a second year, the chamber partnered with the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre and Leger Marketing to take the pulse of Ontario’s business community.

The survey, completed in December by nearly 2,400 businesses and organizations and released Tuesday, shows that most Ontario businesses are confident about their own futures and are planning to expand over the next five years.

But these same businesses also express insecurity about the overall direction of Ontario’s economy, with fewer than half expressing confidence today.

Eastern Ontario businesses reported the least confidence of all regions; businesses in the Hamilton area were the most optimistic.

Some industry sectors also expressed more confidence than others — the financial services sector is the most rosy about its own outlook. About three-quarters say their business will expand in the next five years, while fewer than half of government, not-for-profit and retail respondents say they have plans to expand.

A link to the online survey was sent to 160 chambers of commerce province wide, which distributed it to their local members to complete.

“This is a strong representative sampling of Ontario businesses and gives us a very good perspective on where Ontario business attitudes are right now,” said Leger Marketing executive vice president Dave Scholz.

The survey results also suggest business leaders think Ontario is falling behind on productivity, as only 10 per cent of respondents believe their sector is a global leader in productivity.

The report concludes by making 43 wide-ranging recommendations, which include fostering entrepreneurship in the classroom, enabling better access to capital for startups and small businesses through crowd funding, encouraging businesses to hire more aboriginal peoples and people with disabilities, utilizing the province’s large immigrant population to forge connections with emerging markets, and opening up more government services to private-sector and not-for-profit delivery.

Businesses are struggling to diversify their exports. Nearly half of Ontario businesses view China as the most critical market in the next five to 10 years, yet only a tiny fraction of Ontario’s exports are bound for China.

The debt and deficit also remain big concerns. Roughly a quarter of businesses believe Ontario is going in the right direction when it comes to restoring fiscal balance.

The survey results are contained in a new report called Emerging Stronger 2013, which continues to promote an agenda to transform the province’s economy by focusing on five key areas: fostering innovation, building a stronger workforce, restoring fiscal balance, increasing export and trade activities, and capitalizing on potential opportunities, such as the Ring of Fire mining developments.

Resources:
2013 Emerging Stronger Report (49 page PDF)
Ontario Chamber of Commerce Website

 

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