A new survey reported that although Wisconsin business owners overwhelmingly agree the state is heading in the right direction, 20 percent are planning layoffs over the next six months.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce released the survey of their members, small businesses across the state, during the State of Wisconsin Business Conference that featured Gov. Scott Walker.

The survey from WMC, a business advocacy group, surveyed 121 of the approximately 1,100 business owners contacted responded to the survey, which had a margin of error of about eight percent.

Wednesday’s survey reported about a quarter of CEOs plan to hire more workers and 20 percent plan to cut staff, which is the highest rate since 2009 when 41 percent CEOs expected job cuts. In WMC’s June survey, 62 percent of business owners said they would increase employment, while only two percent expected to decrease their staff.

WMC spokesperson Jim Pugh said the survey results demonstrate Wisconsin’s business climate is improving. Still, he noted company managers are concerned about the national economic slowdown because of federal government issues, such as the high costs of healthcare and excessive government regulations on businesses.

“While they’re exuberant about the state of Wisconsin, they recognize they’re operating within a global economy,” Pugh said. 

He added there is uncertainty among business executives over President Barack Obama’s economic policies during his second term.

Forty-one percent of CEOs said they expect growth in the their company, while 58 percent believe their business will remain flat or decline. None of the surveyed executives expect “good growth” from the Wisconsin economy in the next six months, although some do expect moderate growth.

Pugh said the WMC looks forward to working with legislators and other groups to create jobs in Wisconsin. He said he hopes the Legislature passes “pro-business agenda” and that both parties work together on job creation.

According to Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, the biggest issue facing businesses is not the national economic slowdown, but high corporate taxes or rising health care costs, as the survey suggests. He also said higher education should begin focusing on training students for today’s job market.

“What I hear mostly from businesses is there’s a lack of trained, qualified people,” Kaufert said. “For the Legislature, we need to do a better job of making sure universities and technical colleges have workers job ready. They go and get their degree and then have trouble finding a job.”

Sixty-seven percent of the WMC survey’s CEOs attribute their trouble hiring new employees to this described lack of quality job applicants.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, said for Wisconsin’s job market to develop, small businesses need help acquiring loans and legislators need to discuss all 50 job-creation bills left on the table last session. Jorgensen echoed Kaufert’s sentiment that the top concern for business owners is hiring workers with enough training.

Jorgensen added education has to become a priority after the drastic cut in that sector in the last legislative session.

“Priorities were skewed this last session,” Jorgensen said. “I hope both Republicans and Democrats, colleagues throughout the state, the new members of the Assembly and Senate have heard the same message that we need to make education a priority again.”