7/29/2021 7:00:00 AM

Umpqua Bank’s 2021 Business Barometer: Surging Optimism and Transformational Shifts Position Middle Market Companies for Growth Amid Continued Disruption

Middle Market optimism surges +24 points over pre-pandemic levels: more than 70% of companies embrace continued adaptation with “significant” changes to strategy and operations anticipated

Roughly 50% plan to invest in real estate, acquisitions or other expansion in year ahead

Umpqua Bank, a subsidiary of Umpqua Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ: UMPQ), today released its annual 2021 Business Barometer, an in-depth study into the mood, mindset, and strategic priorities of nearly 1,200 leaders at small and middle market companies across the United States. Despite the heavy toll businesses nationwide faced last year, optimism has now surged past pre-pandemic levels, and many companies report being well positioned for growth in the year ahead.

In addition to reporting transformational shifts in operations and strategy over the last year, middle market companies, in particular, are embracing the expectation of continued challenges and the need for ongoing adaptation. And while growth is expected among both small and middle market companies, intense disruptions related to supply chains and competition for workplace talent pose considerable challenges.

“Businesses of all sizes made significant changes over the past year in response to the pandemic. As a result of increased efficiencies and diversification, many have emerged more optimistic and poised for growth as the economic recovery continues,” said Richard Cabrera, EVP and Head of Middle Market Banking at Umpqua Bank. “Leaders have realized their organizations’ capacity to pivot and adapt, and the pandemic has challenged them to think more strategically and in greater detail about their larger purpose and value to the marketplace. This bodes well for the immediate future and will also make them better prepared to adapt to the next disruption.”

Together, small and middle market companies serve as bellwethers for the economy. Middle market businesses alone account for $6 trillion of the U.S. private-sector GDP and provide 44 million jobs. The strength and resiliency of these businesses are critical to economic well-being and recovery.

Key findings and highlights from Umpqua Bank’s fourth annual survey include:

 “Significant Changes” Made in 2020 Represent Transformational Shifts

Not surprisingly, most businesses have made major strategic adjustments in response to the pandemic. Nearly all middle market companies (96%) and most small businesses (65%) say they’ve made “significant changes” to multiple areas, including supply chains, staffing models, company culture and vision, brick-and-mortar operations, and products and services. These changes, however, reflect more than temporary pivots to survive. According to the report, about half of those surveyed, including 71% of middle market companies, expect to keep most or all of the changes made.

Surging Optimism Paves Way for Growth

Positivity around the current state of the economy has roughly doubled since last year, with expectations for overall economic improvement and business growth accelerating past levels recorded in previous Umpqua middle market research. A majority of middle market (55%) and small (52%) businesses expect economic conditions to improve and for revenue to increase (62% of middle market and 53% of small businesses). 

A renewed sense of optimism, and most likely delayed plans from 2020, have middle market companies thinking about growth and expansion in the year ahead. More than half (52%) are considering acquiring another business, up from roughly one-third reporting such interest in 2019 and 2020. Another 56% expect to finance expansion plans.

The state of the commercial real estate sector may also be less dire than commonly assumed, as 47% of middle market companies are looking to expand their real estate footprint. That figure is most pronounced within the manufacturing, and finance and insurance industries.

Leaders Embrace a Mindset of Continuous Change & Evolution

Despite reporting massive strategic shifts in response to the pandemic a year ago, more changes are coming in a competitive, dynamic post-pandemic economy. Roughly three-quarters or more of middle market businesses expect to continue making significant changes to products and services (75%). They also anticipate substantial changes to their pricing models (75%); another 81% are likely to digitize new areas of their business to become more efficient, while 79% will continue automating repetitive manual tasks.

“Over the past several years, disruptions—whether macro-economic, geopolitical, or technological—have become a constant reality, and none has been more impactful than the pandemic,” said Cabrera. “The data mirrors what we see on the ground with our customers—businesses are starting to accept this reality. While the last year has been difficult, many businesses have tapped into strategic and creative energy that’s changing their mindset from one of resistance to embracing the need for continual change.”

Despite accelerating optimism and plans for growth, businesses face economic headwinds that will continue to challenge their capabilities and need for strategic support from various partners. These include:

Talent Dislocation and Lack of Skilled Workers

Most middle market businesses (55%) and 41% of small businesses are having trouble finding qualified employees. Companies cite the inability to engage qualified talent and a shortage of skilled candidates as the top staffing challenges; respondents from construction, retail and manufacturing businesses are most likely to have trouble finding qualified employees.

While businesses are offering enhanced incentives, including finding creative ways to support working parents (71% of middle market companies), operating short-handed has a ripple effect across their bottom line and the economy. Higher labor costs, increased delays with goods and costly workforce inefficiencies are cited as the most significant impacts. The inability to pursue new opportunities also ranks exceptionally high for small businesses.

Supply Chain Disruptions

As companies are working to adapt and grow to meet increasing consumer demand for goods, many are still feeling the effects of the pandemic on the global supply chain, with 88% of businesses citing difficulty sourcing goods in the past 12 months. The most common supply chain difficulties companies have faced include:

  • Being unable to purchase the goods in a timely manner needed to run their business (23% of small businesses and 29% of middle market companies)
  • Facing longer delays to receive goods (59%)
  • Experiencing an increase in the price of goods (76%)

 To read the survey in full, visit www.umpquabank.com/business-barometer-survey-report.

Survey Methodology

The Umpqua Bank 2021 Business Barometer, conducted annually, surveyed 1,196 owners, executives, and financial decision-makers from U.S. small and middle market companies. The online survey was conducted in partnership with DHM Research, a public policy and business research firm, and targeted leaders at companies with $500,000 to $500 million in annual revenue. The survey has a 2.8% margin of error and was fielded from May 24 – June 4, 2021.

About Umpqua Bank
Umpqua Bank, headquartered in Roseburg, Ore., is a subsidiary of Umpqua Holdings Corporation, and has locations across Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. Umpqua Bank has been recognized for its innovative customer experience and banking strategy by national publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Fast Company and CNBC. The company has been recognized for eight years in a row on FORTUNE magazine's list of the country's "100 Best Companies to Work For," and was recently named by The Portland Business Journal the Most Admired Financial Services Company in Oregon for the sixteenth consecutive year. In addition to its retail banking presence, Umpqua Bank also owns Financial Pacific Leasing, Inc., a nationally recognized commercial finance company that provides equipment leases to businesses.