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Poll: Businesses less optimistic post-Sandy, but more plan to hire in 2013

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Businesses are less optimistic about the state's economic climate than they were seven months ago in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, according to a survey of New Jersey Chamber of Commerce members, though the head of the organization said the U.S. House of Representatives' approval of a major infusion of federal disaster aid last night would significantly improve the state's business outlook if those company executives were polled today.

"The first aid package was for homeowners, and this aid package addresses businesses and infrastructure, but nobody knew when we did the survey back in December if we were getting the money," chamber President Thomas A. Bracken said. "Now that we know we'll have money coming in to fix problems in the business community and its infrastructure, that's got to add optimism."

Bracken attributed the sharp increase in the number of executives expecting New Jersey's economy to wane throughout the next 12 months — a jump from 6 percent in May to 24 percent in December among the 108 chamber members who responded to the survey — to uncertainties surrounding the superstorm recovery, unresolved fiscal cliff issues and health care costs, which he said either didn't exist or were in the backs of decision makers' minds in May, yet moved "front and center" in December.

Nevertheless, 40 percent of respondents indicated plans to increase their workforces through December 2013 — more than 10 percentage points higher than the spring results on hiring and a sign that "overall jobs in the state should increase, which is what makes the economy stronger before anything else," Bracken said.

However, businesses are less optimistic about future revenues and profits, as the number of companies expecting those areas to improve fell 5 percentage points and 6 percentage points, respectively, from May's responses.

Still, nearly 70 percent of the executives polled said the state's economic climate has improved since Gov. Chris Christie took office in 2010, and even though 40 percent of respondents believe it will take more than three years for the state to bounce back economically from Sandy, 83 percent gave the governor excellent marks in his management and leadership throughout the superstorm and its recovery efforts.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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