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US Businesses More Optimistic in 2014, but Hiring Challenges Remain


American companies are feeling more optimistic. A new survey by the National Association For Business Economics says a majority of companies surveyed expect stronger sales and higher profit margins as U.S. economic growth accelerates in 2014. But, some challenges could put the brakes on the U.S. recovery.

After a slow start, a late pick-up in sales in the final months of 2013 appears to have bolstered business confidence. The National Association for Business Economics says of 64 members who took part in its January survey - about 70 percent predict the U.S. economy will grow between 2.5 to 3 percent this year.

NABE’s Ken Simonson says the low point came during the 16-day government shutdown last October.

“That certainly depressed investments in 2013. Now, however, companies look as if they’re going to invest more heavily in equipment in 2014, at least according to this survey," said Ken Simonson.

More than a third reported higher profit margins and nearly half expect to raise prices. Still, only 37 percent say they plan to hire more workers in the next six months. And those who are hiring say a lack of skilled workers could hamper job growth.

“Well, consistently, about a quarter of the firms have been saying finding skilled labor has been a difficult problem," said Simonson.

It’s an especially acute problem for petrochemical firms which recently announced more than 130 investment projects this year valued at nearly $100 billion.

“You can’t get 135 projects done in a short time frame with the labor pool that we have in this country. We’re going to need to import some workers to do that and if we can’t, costs are going to escalate, there will be delays, there will be cancellations," said Simonson.

Despite recent market volatility, most of the firms surveyed say they expect little or no impact from the Federal Reserve’s decision to scale back monetary policy.

And only 20 percent anticipated a negative impact from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, better known as "Obamacare."
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