Phila. businesses say 2011 was better than expected

What I found interesting about the regional economic outlook presented at Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday morning had to do with the past, rather than the future.

Namely that 2011 turned out to be a lot better than businesspeople thought it would.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has been surveying chamber members for the last couple of years about their own business prospects as well as their impression of conditions in the wider economy.

This year's survey of 204 chamber members shows steady improvement in new orders and sales from 2010 and 2011 and they project that to continue in 2012.

Jason Novak, research and policy support manager at the Philly Fed, who presented the data at the Hyatt at the Bellevue in Center City, highlighted the growth in capital expenditures. When companies spend more on equipment and software, the goal is generally to increase the productivity of the current workforce, and the survey showed local businesses doing just that.

What was a bit surprising was the growth in spending on physical plant, which signal expanding offices or other workplaces. Respondents to the survey in 2011 had forecast very little change. But those who responded to this year's survey showed that spending on physical plant was "much stronger" than they'd thought, Novak said.

In fact, many of the numbers contained in the economic outlook convey the impression of an improving regional economy. It's just that the pace is so slow that many feel left out.

"It's like a really long football game with not too many chances to cheer," Novak said in an interview.

Here's a link to the slides to that presentation.