FILE - Fort Myers Florida businesses

Small businesses line a city street in Fort Myers, Florida.

Florida lawmakers over the past decade have adopted bills designed to grease the “talent pipeline” in competing for high-tech economic development.

Doing so is also a priority of the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s campaign “to champion the best possible education and close Florida's talent gap.”

But at least one component of Florida’s employers remain concerned about finding the quality workforce they need to compete – small businesses, especially those with five or fewer employees.

According to the Florida Chamber’s Third Quarter Small Business Survey, finding qualified workers to fill available jobs is the most pressing issue among the state’s small business owners.

“Workforce quality” was the top issue cited by 27 percent of respondents with “economic uncertainty” listed by 12 percent as their primary concern. “Growth management process” (8 percent), “government regulations” (7 percent) and “healthcare costs” (7 percent) rounded out the top five concerns of 61 percent of small business owners in the survey.

Finding qualified workers has been the top issue for small businesses in the survey conducted by the Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council every quarter since 2010 with the one exception occurring in the first quarter of 2019 when it was second behind “economic uncertainty.”

“Florida’s small businesses continue to be concerned about being able to hire a talented workforce,” Florida Chamber Foundation Chief Economist and Director of Research Dr. Jerry Parrish said in a statement accompanying the survey.

“Improving Florida’s talent pipeline for a better workforce will help ensure jobs have talented employees, and will help put workers on the path to prosperity – leading goals of Florida 2030, Florida’s next strategic plan,” he added.

Overall, Florida’s economy is robust. On July 19, the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity reported 16,100 jobs were created statewide in June, a 0.2 percent increase the 8,986,500 people employed in Florida.

June’s job spike followed four months of flat growth or declines in employment. The state has gained 218,800 jobs since July 2018, an increase of 2.5 percent, but only 21,000 over the first six months of 2019, making it unlikely the Florida Chamber’s goal of 150,000 new jobs this year will be achieved.

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in June remained below the national 3.7 percent unemployment rate and unchanged from May. It is down 0.2 percent from May 2018.

The Florida Chamber’s Small Business Index Survey was conducted electronically June 6 through July 5, 2019. Fifty-six percent of respondents employ less than five employees, while 32 percent employ five to 49 employees.

The nonscientific, random sampling of small business owners received 130 responses. 

In addition to struggling with workforce quality, the respondents also expressed reservations about economic growth and fear of recession with 47 percent expecting the economy to improve – down from 57 percent one year ago and 70 percent two years ago.

When asked to predict their company’s prospects for the coming year, 65 percent expect to have higher sales than the previous year, compared to 62 percent one year ago and 70 percent two years ago.

More than 39 percent of respondents said they expect to hire workers in the next six months – down from the 45 percent who said they were planning to hire in last year's third quarter survey and from the 44 percent two years ago.

Forty-one percent of respondents said they plan to invest in plants or equipment in the coming year, down from 44 percent one year ago and 50 percent two years ago.

While the responses from small businesses appear cautiously tepid, respondents did identify one positive indicator with 24 percent projecting it will be easier to get financing in the next six months, compared to 15 percent in last quarter’s survey.