Great Expectations

Economic Reality

Despite turbulent stock market activity in late 1997, experts believe the performance of our solid macroeconomic environment will only improve. "Overall, the economy is doing very well," says Larry Winters, vice president of small-business services for Dun & Bradstreet, an international research-based business information provider in Murray Hill, New Jersey. "Quarterly earnings have been favorable, profit margins are good and unemployment is low. Most economic indicators are extremely favorable."

However, even the most optimistic outlook can't obscure the foremost challenge facing today's entrepreneurs: the tight job market. "One of the biggest concerns in 1998 for small business will be finding qualified and skilled employees," confirms Glover. "The most common complaint we hear today is `We can't find good, skilled workers.' And I think that's going to continue."

Unfortunately, experts expect the labor situation to intensify in the decades to come. "Over the next 50 years, the labor market will get tighter every year," says David Birch, president of Cognetics Inc., an economic research firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Both the population growth rate and the labor force growth rate are slowing dramatically."

Whereas finding skilled labor is just a hindrance today, tomorrow it may plague you and your competitors to a perilous extent. Birch predicts the potential impact: "There are no people left--period. There's no way you can grow; there's no way to hire. And that's an issue." In fact, it's already happening in some parts of the country--Birch has witnessed businesses in Madison, Wisconsin, struggle with an unemployment rate of 1.9 percent.

On the bright side, relief from distant shores may be on the way, and according to Wacker, this new scenario may work in your favor. "Fifty percent of the people in the world now expect to spend the majority of their life in a nation other than their birth nation," he says. "I think you'll see the mobility of the labor force become a global phenomenon. [People] are going to be attracted to this country because of what it represents."

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