Yes, would be the short and bright answer to the title question. Certainly this would reflect the findings of a number of a reports released recently to capture the sentiments of business people in the South East. One such report is the Quarterly Economic Survey compiled by Nick Rowell in November 2013 for the Kent Invicta Chambers which shows that in almost all areas of activity, from sales, exports, cash flow to investment, business performance is up indicating a new optimism in the South East.
According to the survey, the figures collected point to an all-time high of 57% increase in sales continuing a year-long solid growth trend in 2013 with three quarters of the respondents expecting further growth in the next 12 months.
Exports is another area in which businesses in the South East have recorded high increases at 85% up signalling high hopes for 2014, particularly after the measures announced by the UK Chancellor to assist British exports in the last budget in March.
Even cash flow, which had been tricky since 2007, registered record highs of 38% improvement and only 23% of respondents cited deteriorating cash flow.
Business investment achieved a record 47% with respondents planning to spend on equipment, hiring of permanent staff, and further hiring in the next 3 months. The only downside was that businesses felt heightened pressure from other competitors with nearly 60% identifying greater competition as the major concern particularly from the professional services, the survey’s biggest category of respondents.
A Sense of Shared Optimism
The figures speak for themselves but may reflect a surprising level of optimism, so DBM went out into the Medway community to ask three random business people, if they shared the same optimism about the future as many of the respondents in the survey.
Shop owner, Laide, who runs an Afro Caribbean general store admits she feels a quiet confidence that business is picking as she sees new customers entering her shop in Chatham. “I’ve had to rely on my strong support base but now I see new customers, so I think things are finally improving,” she says.
The manager at Lena’s handbag and accessories shop in Medway, acknowledges she hasn’t noticed much of a difference and feels the retail sector is still slow moving. “It’s not good, it’s not bad. Things have remained the same for the last few years. It’s still hard for shop owners.”
Whereas Rachel Pratt, who runs a dance company for children and adults in Medway has experienced growth in the last year and is starting to develop her company in new areas and taking on new students
Business Consultant for MidKent College, Helen Topliss also featured in this magazine on page 11 predicts the growth areas in Kent and Medway to be in:
- Construction (residential and non-residential)
- Human health activities such as nursing homes and hospices
- Health products and appliances (hearing aids etc) suppliers and health charities
- Restaurants and mobile food services.
She cites lack of funding to be the major hindrance for small businesses particularly start-ups who have no history, “banks aren’t interested in this part of the market even though most start-ups don’t need much and don’t want to get into debt by taking on too much loans,” she says.
However in agreement with the survey, Helen believes that there is a new air of confidence in the South East even in the retail sector which is predicted to rise by 2% in Kent and Medway. She points to the numerous government schemes to support small businesses including schemes provided by MidKent College to support training needs.
All in all there are good reasons to be cheerful, it would seem and businesses in the South East,guided by a warm glow of confidence are stepping into a brighter future.