Economic confidence among people in the Fort Smith region is shaky, with the most recent The Consumer Compass Survey showing a decline in the number of people who believe their financial situation will be better a year from now.
As of Nov. 29, 16% of respondents to The Consumer Compass Survey said their personal financial will be better in one year, with that number falling to 12% in the survey conducted Feb. 22-23.
In the inaugural survey conducted Aug. 31, 11.5% and 41% of respondents said their financial condition was better off and worse, respectively, than a year ago.
“As we have seen for three quarters now, regional residents in western Arkansas have a guardedly pessimistic view of economic conditions at the local, state and national level,” said Roby Brock, executive editor of Talk Business and owner/analyst for Talk Business Research. “Local optimistic attitudes remain in the low teens for the state and local economy, and they dip into the single digits for optimism about national economic health. These are trends we've witnessed since last summer.”
The survey, conducted for The City Wire by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College, is a supplement to The Compass Report — the first comprehensive economic analysis of the Fort Smith region launched by The City Wire and presenting sponsor Benefit Bank in the first quarter of 2009. Other sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications, the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Phoenix Expo Trade & Event Center.
In the almost 90 days between the surveys, overall consumer confidence in the region declined related to personal financial situation and in the future health of the Fort Smith regional economy and U.S. economy. (See bar graph at end of survey results.)
In late February, 12% of survey respondents said their financial situation improved in the past year, and 38.5% said their finances became worse. In the Nov. 29 survey, 12.5% said their financial situation improved and 40% said it was worse.
Also, a majority (71%) of regional residents say the regional economy will be worse (36%) or the same (35%) in the next year. That is a clear decline compared to the 67.5% in late November who said the regional economy would be worse (31.5%) or the same (36%) in the next year.
There was a significant difference in the number who believe the U.S. economy will not get better in the next year, with 56.5% saying it will get worse and 14% expecting it to get better. The Nov. 29 survey found that 46.5% said it would get worse and 19.5% thought the U.S. economy would improve.
Brock offered the following observations on the poll results:
• There is still a 3-to-1 negative attitude regarding Fort Smith regional residents and their personal financial situations. In the last quarter, we saw those opinions dip slightly after some relative optimism following the November elections. The number of residents who think their personal finances will improve in the next year is an anemic 12%, which is about 4 points lower than it was three months ago.
• That said, we do see a 5% increase in those who think Fort Smith regional economic conditions will improve and more than half of those surveyed (56%) think their local government's actions and policies for job growth are "good" or "okay."
• At the state level, there was a noticeable shift in the number of locals who think state leaders are doing a good job in attracting business. Only 13% see state leaders' actions as "good," down 7% from last quarter. They now consider their performance as "okay, but could be better," as is evidenced by the 8% increase in that statistic from three months ago.
• This could be attributed to the actions at the state capitol with the legislature in session. While tax cuts have been discussed, there has been little ceremony of accomplishments on the jobs front from the legislature and it has been a while since a major business announcement has occurred to alter public perception on the subject.
• Another noticeable shift in public opinion involves attitudes on the future prospects of the American economy. Statistically, we see a 5% decline in confidence that the U.S. economy will improve during the next year (only 14%). And 56.5% of Fort Smith area residents think the national economy will worsen in the next 12 months. This marks a 10% increase in this pessimistic attitude — one of the largest shifts we detect from the previous quarter.
This poll was conducted by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/- 4%, was completed using IVR survey technology on Feb. 22-23, among 601 residents in the Fort Smith region (Crawford, Franklin, Logan and Sebastian counties). Our random sample of potential respondents came from a pool of more than 18,000 residents. The poll was not weighted for any particular characteristics.
COMPLETE SURVEY RESULTS
The Consumer Compass Report — The City Wire
Conducted by Talk Business Research & Hendrix College on Feb. 22-23, 2011
601 Respondents in the Fort Smith Region
Margin of Error +/- 4%
Q1. How would you describe your personal financial situation? Are you better off financially, worse off, or about the same as you were one year ago?
5% Don’t know
Q2. Now looking ahead — do you think that one year from now your personal financial situation will be better off, worse off, or about the same?
13% Don’t know
Q3. Turning to business conditions in the Fort Smith region as a whole — do you think that during the next year, local business conditions will get better, get worse or stay about the same?
12.5% Don’t know
Q4. What about the U.S. economy? During the next year, do you think business conditions in the United States will get better, get worse or stay about the same?
7.5% Don’t know
Q5. Considering the regional business environment, do you believe the actions and policies of county and local governments in the Fort Smith region are good for business and job growth, bad for business and job growth, or somewhere in between?
45.5% OK, but could be better
17% Don’t know
Q6. Considering the state business environment, do you believe the actions and policies of state government officials — elected and appointed — are good for business and job growth, bad for business and job growth, or somewhere in between?
43% OK, but could be better
16% Don’t know
Q7. Considering the national business environment, do you believe the actions and policies of federal government officials — elected and appointed — are good for business and job growth, bad for business and job growth or somewhere in between?
42.5% OK, but could be better
10.5% Don’t know
Notes on Raw Data:
2.5% Under the age of 30
11% Between the ages of 30 and 44
39% Between the ages of 45 and 64
47.5% 65 or older
4% African American
1.5% Asian American
90.5% Caucasian or White
55.5% Less than $50,000
21% $50,000 - $75,000
13.5% $75,001 - $100,000
10% More than $100,000
33% High school degree or less
31% High school degree and some college, but no degree
12% Two-year (associate’s) degree
15% Four-year college degree
9% Masters degree or higher