Biz sentiment turns positive here as vaccines spread

The latest Crain’s-Harris Poll also has a surprising finding about electing the city’s Board of Education.

By GREG HINZ  | Crain’s Chicago Business | April 5, 2021

Business leaders are turning markedly more positive about the local economy as COVID-19 vaccines spread throughout the population.

According to the third wave of the quarterly Crain’s-Harris Poll, 32 percent of business execs surveyed here now say business conditions are improving in the city, and 44 percent in the state. Just 36 and 28 percent, respectively, say conditions are declining—down from a whopping 55 percent when the pandemic was rapidly deepening in November.

The 200 area business leaders (owners, C-suite executives and directors) are even more optimistic about what conditions will be like later this year.

The share of leaders who say Chicago’s economy will be good or very good in six months jumped 12 percentage points since the last Executive Pulse Survey to 56 percent, with the state matching that 56 percent, up 14 percent. That’s just short of the national figure, 60 percent.

Those changes in attitude have begun to seep into corporate conduct, the survey suggests.

For instance 63 percent of leaders said they expect to have at least a quarter of their workforce back in the office within a month.  At the same time, the share of companies that are reducing their physical space needs is down a little, from 49 percent in November to 40 percent now.

That does not mean business leaders are happy. For instance, 24 percent of leaders said the biggest thing holding back Chicago is high taxes, followed narrowly by crime at 20 percent.

Twenty-nine percent of the sample reported they already have been vaccinated, roughly the same as the state’s population as a whole. Just 6 percent say they will decline such treatment.

One big surprise was on what leaders had to say about whether members of the Chicago Board of Education should still be selected by the mayor or elected in a general vote. A whopping 79 percent back a bill pending in Springfield to make the city’s school board an elected body, with only 22 percent opposed.

On the other hand, asked about the continuing feuding between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union, 28 percent place more blame on the union than on Lightfoot, 17 percent. Well over half, 56 percent, held each camp equally responsible.