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Poll: Health care cited as boost to local economy

How would you describe your outlook for the Buffalo Niagara region?

Trends: Local executives are more optimistic about the Buffalo Niagara economy than they were last year, and they’re more than twice as upbeat as they were during the depths of the recession. And the optimistic camp is growing steadily, expanding by 19 percent during the past year.

Executives who consider themselves optimistic now outnumber the pessimists by a 2-to-1 margin. Just a year ago, the split was fairly even, with seven pessimists for every eight optimists.

How we compare: Even with the rising swell of good feelings among local executives, they’re mood is pretty much in line with how executives from across upstate are feeling, where 39 percent classify themselves as optimistic. There are fewer pessimists across upstate as a whole, too, with 16 percent still feeling negative about this year.

How would you describe the business climate in the Buffalo Niagara region?

Trends: Broadly speaking, local executives are feeling much better about the local business climate. Over the past year, the percentage of executives who think business conditions are getting better has jumped to 34 percent from 20 percent in 2013. Just 17 percent of the executives say the business climate is getting worse, just about half as many as a year ago, when 33 percent had a negative view.

But when executives are asked about conditions in their own particular industry, they’re not quite as positive, with 28 percent saying the business climate is improving, up from 22 percent in 2013.

How we compare: The Buffalo Niagara region is a center for optimism across upstate. While executives across upstate are more upbeat than they were in 2013, they’re more pessimistic outside the Buffalo Niagara region, where just 20 percent of executives across other parts of upstate think the business climate is improving, up from 13 percent in 2012.

What industry will have the biggest impact on the local economy during the next three to five years?

Trends: Local executives think the medical industry can be the biggest driver of the Buffalo Niagara economy by a wide margin. Nearly half think the medical sector can have the biggest impact on the local economy, more than three times greater than their No. 2 choice, manufacturing.

Add in the 11 percent who think education can be the driving force, and the so-called “Eds and Meds” sector is seen by nearly 60 percent of local executives as the power behind the local economy in the coming years.

How we compare: Local executives are three times as bullish on the medical industry as their counterparts across upstate. And while technology ranks fourth on the list of economic drivers in the Buffalo Niagara region, it tops the list in other upstate metro areas by a wide margin, at 38 percent. Medical ranks second at 16 percent.

Rate the Buffalo Niagara region as a place where businesses can succeed.

Trends: Local executives are feeling a little better about the Buffalo Niagara region as a place to do business, but they still think there’s a lot of room for improvement.

While the number of executives who think the region is a good or excellent place for business inched up to 24 percent last year from 22 percent in 2013, they still were outnumbered by the 28 percent of executives who think the chances of succeeding here are poor – a group that actually grew from 26 percent in 2013.

How we compare: We’re a more pessimistic lot than our upstate brethren. In other upstate metro areas, the positive camp is a little bigger, at 28 percent, while the group of executives who think their communities are a poor place to do business is significantly smaller, at 18 percent.

If you had to do it over again, would you locate your business in New York or elsewhere?

Trends: Despite the improvement in general feelings about the local business climate, executives in the Buffalo Niagara region still think the grass is greener outside New York. Nearly two-thirds of local executives said they would start their businesses outside New York if they had the chance to do it over again, virtually the same percentage as in 2013.

How we compare: Executives in other upstate metro areas feel pretty much the same way, with a slightly greater number – 70 percent – saying they would start their businesses elsewhere.

Executives in the wholesale and distribution industry were especially negative, with 78 percent saying other places were better, while service firms viewed New York more favorably, with 57 percent saying they wouldn’t start their business in New York.

What single issue would you like the governor and state Legislature to focus on?

Trends: Spending cuts continue to top the CEO’s wish list for Albany, but its support has steadily declined over the past three years, from 47 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2013 and 36 percent last year.

At the same time, income tax reform is quickly becoming a much bigger legislative priority, supported by 29 percent of the local CEOs, up from 26 percent in 2013 and just 16 percent in 2012.

Infrastructure improvements also gained traction, cited by 13 percent of the local CEOs, more than double the 6 percent from 2013.

How we compare: Executives locally share the same concerns as their counterparts upstate, but the gaps between the top three choices are less pronounced than it is in the Buffalo Niagara region.

Spending cuts are sought by 31 percent of CEOs in other upstate metro areas, while 27 percent back income tax reform and 15 percent seek infrastructure improvements.

Of the challenges your company faces, which one concerns you the most?

Trends: For the third straight year, government regulation was the No. 1 concern among local CEOs, holding steady at 23 percent. Health care ranked second, but at 17 percent, it was down slightly from 20 percent in 2013. Taxation, with 16 percent, jumped into the third spot after ranking fourth in 2013 at 12 percent. Adverse economic conditions, which ranked third in 2013 at 15 percent, fell into fourth at 12 percent.

How we compare: Executives in other upstate metro areas generally share the same concerns as their colleagues in the Buffalo Niagara region. Executives in other upstate areas are slightly more concerned about regulation, at 26 percent. Health care costs ranked second at 14 percent, while adverse economic conditions and taxation tied for third at 13 percent.