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NFIB Survey: Industry-Specific Small Business Economic Trends

June 21, 2024, 07:05 AM
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The NFIB Research Center released an industry-specific quarterly Small Business Economic Trends survey highlighting the construction, manufacturing, retail, and services industries.

“In general, small business owners are not optimistic about the economy and the future of their business conditions,” said Holly Wade, Executive Director of NFIB’s Research Center. “The survey shows some industries have slightly higher optimism, but all industries remain below the Index’s historical average of 98. There is no doubt that rising prices and hiring challenges continue to hinder almost all small businesses.”

The survey was conducted in April and the overall Optimism Index in April was 89.7.

Key findings by industry include:


  • The Optimism Index for the construction industry was 92.2, down 1.2 points from the previous quarter but 2.5 points higher than the overall Optimism Index.
  • Owners in construction had the highest percentage of unfilled job openings among the four reported industries at 55%, up six points from January.
  • Fifty-one percent of the job openings in construction are for skilled workers and 19% are for unskilled labor.
  • Fifty-eight percent of construction firms reported few or no qualified applicants, down three points from January.
  • Forty-eight percent of construction firms reported raising their selling prices in April, up 12 points from last quarter.
  • Earnings trends in construction improved three points from the previous quarter to a net negative 14%.


  • The Optimism Index for manufacturing in April was 89.3, down one point from January and only 0.4 points below the overall Optimism Index.
  • Thirty-seven percent of firms reported unfilled job openings, down 11 points from January.
  • A net 6% of firms in the manufacturing sector plan to create new jobs in the next three months, down 13 points from the previous quarter and marking the greatest change of all index components.
  • Hiring plans in the manufacturing sector are six points lower than the overall small business economy.
  • The percent of firms expecting strong future sales rose eight points in April from the first quarter.
  • A net negative 13% of manufacturing owners expect higher sales in the next three months, only one point worse than the overall small business economy.


  • The retail sector exhibited a notably lower level of optimism than the average for all firms in April with an industry Optimism Index of 88.8, down 0.4 points from January.
  • Earnings trends in retail fell nine points from the previous quarter to a net negative 39% – marking the greatest change from the previous quarter.
  • Retail owners’ expectations about the economic conditions over the next six months declined three points to a net negative 37%.
  • A net negative 5% of retailers report current inventory levels “too low,” compared to a net negative 4% of all small businesses.
  • Retailers have decreased inventory levels, and a net negative 4% plan to increase inventories over the next three to six months, down four points from January but two points above all firms.


  • The services sector had the highest optimism among the four reported industries at 92.4.
  • Fifteen percent of owners plan capital outlays in the next few months, down 11 points from January and seven points below the overall reading.
  • Only 2% of small business owners in the services sector believe it is a good time to expand, down eight points from the previous quarter.
  • A net negative 40% of small business owners in the services industry reported they expect the economy to improve.

The full report is available here.

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