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Executives Gloomy in Business Groups' Survey

May 02, 2003|Marla Dickerson | Times Staff Writer

Confronted with a sluggish economy, a yawning state budget gap and soaring expenses, California business leaders are in some ways more pessimistic than they were at the depths of the brutal recession of the early 1990s, according to a survey released Thursday.

The poll by the California Business Roundtable and California Chamber of Commerce showed a sharp deterioration in the mood of businesspeople as the state struggles to emerge from an economic downturn.

"They are angry, they are frustrated, and they are very concerned," said Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce. "The people who create the jobs in California are not optimistic about its future. It's very worrisome."

The chamber has been taking the pulse of California business leaders almost every year since 1991. Although grousing about the state's business climate is nothing new, the depth of the anger this year is notable.

More than three-quarters of the 400 executives polled said California is headed down the wrong track, the highest percentage since pollsters began asking that question in 1998. Only 14% of those surveyed said the state is moving in the right direction -- a plunge of 28 percentage points since that question was asked in the last survey in 2001.

Businesspeople were even more glum when talking about their own companies, with 53% saying conditions at their firms are worse now than they were two years ago. It's the first time in the survey's history that more than half of the survey respondents reported such a deterioration.

Rising business costs are also on the minds of executives this year, with survey respondents saying soaring premiums for workers compensation insurance are the single biggest challenge facing the state's businesses.

Among the other survey findings:

* 81% of respondents said business conditions in California are worse today than they were two years ago.

* 65% reported that business conditions in their particular industry have deteriorated.

* Nearly one-fifth are planning to expand or relocate outside of the state.

* More than half said they have been offered incentives to relocate outside California.

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