Columbus CEO economic survey results show improvement on diversity efforts

Mark Williams
Columbus CEO
Bill LaFayette

Some Columbus companies and other organizations are doing more than just talk when it comes to to addressing issues of race and inclusion.

They’re putting money to work at their organization by either establishing a diversity, equity and inclusion budget or increasing the amount of money that’s been set aside for such efforts, according to Columbus CEO’s latest survey on economic conditions in the region.

Of the C-suite executives in companies, nonprofits and government agencies who were surveyed, 63 percent said they had a budget for DEI with 20 percent of those surveyed saying a budget for such efforts was established in the past year. Meanwhile, 19 percent say they’ve increased their existing budget.

“That was really heartening,” says economic Bill LaFayette, owner of economic consulting firm Regionomics who completed the analysis for CEO.

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Beyond the issues of fairness, it makes sense for organizations and businesses to build and expand their diversity, equity and inclusion budgets, he says.

Competitors that invest in such efforts will be ahead of those that don’t, LaFayette says.

“They’re going to eat your lunch,’’ he says.

Those investments also can bring a payoff in the form of a stronger workforce, LaFayette says.

“You’re more productive if you bring your whole self to work,’’ he says. 

The issue of diversity, equity and inclusion has gotten more attention in the workplace following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis in 2020 and the protests that followed throughout the country, including Columbus.

Greater Columbus CEOs have been speaking out issues of race in the workplace since his death or held events to mourn his loss.

The survey found that 37 percent of the organizations surveyed had no budget dedicated to such efforts and 1 percent said they were cutting their DEI budget.

Companies have been dealing with issues of race as they continue to fight the effects of the pandemic.

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Labor shortage is main concern for executives

A year ago, the top concern for those in the C-suite was the economy given that big chunks of the Greater Columbus economy were shut down because of COVID-19.

But now that the economy has largely reopened, the No. 1 worry for employers has shifted to finding workers.

Of those surveyed, 41 percent said that was their top challenge while 6 percent said it was turnover or attrition.

While the region has added 123,000 jobs since April 2020, it remains 63,000 below where it was in February 2020 before the pandemic began.

For months, employers have complained that they can’t find workers and that applicants are skipping interviews.

The pandemic has been tough on workers, especially those service workers who have been on the frontline, LaFayette says.

“People are thinking more deeply about what they want to do their careers and their lives,” he says. “That’s going to leave some employers at the short end of the stick.’’ 

Worker shortages may be here for years to come, LaFayette says.

“I have a feeling it will have a last impact. The psychological toll it has on everybody, that’s a traumatic experience you don’t forget soon,” he says. 

One thing not mentioned in the survey: shortages of goods that many companies and consumers have complained about over the past year.

Most of the executives who responded to the survey believe that the outlook for the Greater Columbus economy is stronger than the national and global economy.

Of those surveyed, 56 percent say they expect the local economy to improve while just 33 percent said the same for the national economy and 26 percent say they expect the global economy to improve.

But only 9 percent saw a large improvement in the economy and one-third believe the economy has deteriorated.

LaFayette says the mixed views are understandable given the labor and supply chain problems and other constraints on the economy coupled with a lack of familiarity of national and global economic issues. 

“If you ask somebody with a local business what you think about the global economy they’re going give you a shrug and cite something they read a week ago,’’ LaFayette said.

Mark Williams writes about the economy.

Company forecasts

Columbus CEO Survey 2021

Staffing, salaries and training

Regarding expectations for 2022, 58% expect an increase and another 31% expect no change. Although the percentage of respondents expecting an increase is greater than last year’s 45%, but that difference is not statistically significant.

The change in payroll expected next year is significantly greater than last year: 87% compared to 51% in 2020. That is driven by expected staffing increases, and more so by expected increases in salaries and wages.

Training budgets are less likely to be cut this year than last. Only 3% of respondents expect a cut in training in 2022, compared to 20% in 2021. Meanwhile, 57% expect training budgets to increase, significantly greater than last year’s 35%.

Columbus CEO Survey 2021

Revenues, expenditures and profits

The expectation of the corporate leaders for continuing economic expansion is evident in their forecasts for revenue, expenses, and profit over the next 12 months. The survey found 61% of organizational leaders expect revenue to increase in 2022, the same percentage as last year.

Concerns over inflation are driving cost projections. Half of organizational leaders expect at least a 5% increase in costs over the next 12 months, up from 21% last year. Leaders may expect to be able to pass these cost increases on to their customers: 30% expect profits to increase at least 5%.

Columbus CEO Survey 2021
CEO of the Year Economic Survey 2021
Columbus CEO Survey 2021

Productivity and capital expenditures

Organizational leaders are fairly optimistic regarding the productivity of their organizations. Regardless of the difficulty finding and retaining employees, more than half expect an increase in productivity in 2022, not significantly different from last year.

One way to achieve higher productivity is through capital equipment. The capital expenditures expected in 2022 are significantly higher than last year. Half of respondents expect an increase in these expenditures, compared to 30% last year.

Columbus CEO Survey 2021