Monday, April 20, 2009

Are Southerners more optimistic about the economy?

A new business poll offers some fascinating insight into how small business owners view the recession - and what steps they're taking to survive.

The poll, conducted by Echo Research and sponsored by American Express, has several startling numbers, including that one-third of small business owners surveyed stopped taking a salary during the economic crisis. We'll be bringing you one of those business owners, in Charlotte, coming soon.

But buried in the poll's internals is something else that caught our eye: Half of Southern small business owners have a positive outlook about the economic future, at least five percent higher than any other region of the country. New England small business owners were the most pessimistic, with only 37 percent feeling good about what's ahead.

Are Southerners really more optimistic about the economy? We've been suffering as deeply, if not as long, as most of the country, with double-digit unemployment in the Carolinas - and Kentucky, Florida and Alabama close behind.

So why the comparatively positive business outlook? We asked Alice Breden, a business consultant for 20 years and advisor to American Express' small business division. "I have no idea," she said.

Breden, however, is based in Boston, so she gets a pass. Your Squeeze author is likewise a New Englander, but I've been in the South for more than 15 years, which means I know enough to let the natives tackle this one.

Mrs. Squeeze, a Southerner by birth, gets the first opinion. She wonders if the Southern optimism in the AMEX survey comes, in part, from putting on the proper face - that ingrained sense here of saying something positive, at least in public settings.

Tell us what you think. A statistical hiccup (although the sample of 800 respondents is solid) or do Southerners have a sunnier outlook?
Your Morning Edge:

Beware of debt settlers and counselors, who often leave creditors and consumers frustrated, reports the New York Times.

It's time - already - to be preparing for next year's taxes, the Wall Street Journal says.

The lesson from the crash? Nothing lasts forever, including bear markets, Fortune says.


Kevin Johnson said...

I think I know why southerners would be more optimisitic than New Englanders: FAITH. This area has much more faith in God and stronger religious beliefs than New England which is the least churched or faith region in the country. Faith gives you hope that can sustain you through hard times.
Small business owner here myself.

Anonymous said...

I don't belong to a church, but I have faith. I would put it more towards having faith in each other

Anonymous said...

Its much cheaper to live down here than up there. Nothing to do with "Faith" gees.

Randy Davis said...

I am a small business owner and I truly believe that it's all a mindset. If you believe things will be hard, then things will be hard. If you believe things will be good, then things will be good. We create our own environment, and for my small business, things are fantastic.

We have never been busier than we are right now. Our business has doubled since the first of the year and we expect it to be that way from now on.

Randy Davis
Video Production Company Charlotte

Anonymous said...

Uh, I somewhat agree - faith plays a part in it. But as for New Englander's not having faith in God - you're nuts. Because they're not toting their bible, making signs, and preaching on the street corners at any opportunity doesn't mean they don't believe in GOD. Faith is slightly more private up there. Just another ignorant comment (perhaps) coming from someone who doesn't know any better.

Let's think about something else - When was this survey taken? Dates please? Reason I ask - negativity abounds in New England from about November thru March - long, cold, lifeless months.

Anonymous said...

They historically have had lower educational attainment levels, poorer health, and higher levels of poverty. Cheaper labor and lower incomes here, too. I wouldn't put much stock in the opinions of the Bible belters.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we are not as aware of the affects of these govt actions and see this as an opportunity for Northerners to escape that reality to the sunny South thus helping us bounce back at a quicker pace. I personally am only beginning to learn about the economy and how govt can affect us all. We are happy to ignore the stupidity and mistakes and find the next quick fix. Optimism is easier when you know less and have faith in your neighbor. I hope this mess subsides and we come out with smarter people and a stronger nation, not one run by our govt, which we know is too political.

kickazzz2000 said...

What an arrogant statement, Kevin.

Anonymous said...

It's a bit of long connection, but I think it goes to "Who" Southerners are, and "Why" they are that way. The Who, is a group of people that look upon each and every new stranger they meet with the expectation that they will become great friends because they will trust their new friends to show loyalty. These thrusting Whos - I believe - comes from the Why Southerners are that way. I think it's due to their obsession with demanding freedom in their lives and all they do. Freedom is trust, and trust is confidence, and confidence is optimism.

Anonymous said...

I think I know why southerners would be more optimisitic than New Englanders: The Name KEVIN. This area has much more faith in 'Kevins' and stronger 'Kevin' beliefs than New England which is the region least appreciative of people named 'Kevin' in the country. 'Kevin's' give you hope that can sustain you through hard times.

Small business owner here myself.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I think it's possibly due, at least in part, to Southerners being typically less cynical than people who live up north. I know that, speaking for myself anyway (a long-ago transplanted Northerner), I feel more comfortable here, where life just tends to feel less stressful in comparison to many Northern populous areas. Cynicism feeds on itself and I could see how it could make one's outlook about the economy or anything else more pessimistic. (Curiously, there seems to be a strong cynical streak here too, in the form of government's role, as evidenced by a lot of the postings you read on Observer blogs, and I think that it's also self-defeating rather than constructive.)

Anonymous said...

I think it's because business has been better, in general, in the south than in the northeast for a number of years now. In fact, we've been in a long boom, at least 25 years, and people are accustomed to that kind of environment. They certainly have faith in that, regardless of any religious affiliation. I'd also credit our weather (kudos to the poster who asked when the survey was taken.)

Anonymous said...

No, Southerners are more optimistic about everything. I'm from the Pacific Northwest, the home of Pantheism (worship nature, Gaia, Darwin, you name it) and the most overcast days in the country.

Even millionaires there walk with a sneer and wear black everything. You don't want to look too giddy. Why that is, I have no idea. I guess because everyone wants to be 'down' with the struggle, which translates into wearing jeans, earrings, and tattoos.

Ingesting too much PC can make you ill. The coffee is good though.

When I first met with a Southerner, right before my forced employment/contraction transfer, I couldn't figure out the grin. Grinning for no reason. It was irritating.

After I moved here, it took me a while to figure it out. You've got two things going for you: Jesus and mobility. When things are going good you can thank Jesus and when they're not you can thank Jesus (for the insight or the test I guess). In any case it's a win/win.

Down here I also feel like I can apply at a bank, brokerage, or a cookie factory and at least have a chance. Not so in the Northwest where the employment game has been gamed. The unemployment rate may look similar to here but it is not. Many of the good jobs were unionized or otherwise locked up. So you didn't have a shot at all that many positions.

I almost forgot about the mobility. The next major U.S. city to Seattle/Portland is 14 hours of hard driving away, and a move which would cost thousands of dollars to make. Here, a three hour drive with a couple of suitcases can entirely change your life. Think of the change of moving from Cleveland to Charlotte, versus Seattle to San Francisco. One change is dramatic while the other is just a variation of the same thing.

Or the housing costs. Still three times as high in the West/Northwest, though both regions have comparable median incomes.

So I have decided that the main reason for there being so much depression in the Northwest is because it's...depressing. And the South is more optimistic about the economy because there is hope backed by faith supported by fact.

Now can you do something about the summer heat? Unlike the rest of you I have really been enjoying this Spring!

Anonymous said...

It is not that complex. Scores of northern residents have relocated to the south for a variety of reasons over the last decade. Some for jobs (in part created because of the lack of unions not driving up the costs of doing business - see GM), weather, lower overall taxes, more affordable housing, etc. The "new" residents have adopted their new communities and generally believe that things are better here than where they came from. Ask them if they want to go back or try to make it here. The overwhelming answer is make it here.

As a native southerner who appreciates history, I think the natives have been through a lot and have a belief whether based on faith or something else that they will survive.