Chicago Business Executive Pulse: Wave 3

Chicago’s business leaders hold brighter outlook on local business climate and reopening plans amid vaccine rollout in latest Crain’s-Harris Poll Chicago Executive Pulse 

(CHICAGO — April 5, 2021) A brighter outlook is emerging amid the vaccine rollout, with only 36% of local business leaders reporting that business conditions in the Chicago metro area have deteriorated over the last month — compared to 55% who said so back in November.

  • 32% say conditions have improved in Chicago, and 42% say they’ve improved in the state of Illinois.

And for the most part, they’re happy with how the vaccine rollout has been handled — even though many are still waiting on a first dose.

  • 61% rated the state’s handling of the rollout as good or excellent; 56% rated the City’s handling as good or excellent; and 56% rated the federal government’s handling of it as good or excellent.
  • 45% of business leaders surveyed for the pulse say they’re eligible for the COVID-19 but have yet to be vaccinated. And 44% of these executives (those who are eligible but not vaccinated) are scheduled to receive the first dose in less than a month’s time. Thirty-three percent had already received the first dose upon taking the survey.

Limiting the spread of COVID-19 is still the top priority for business leaders, but they’re feeling optimistic about a return to public life.

  • Top priority: 29% of business leader say limiting the spread of COVID-19 is what the mayor and governor should prioritize — although this is down from 39% in Nov., indicating that some business leaders are beginning to think beyond the pandemic.
  • Optimistic about returning to the office soon: 63% of business leaders expect to have at least 25% of their workforce back in the office within the next 30 days, and 39% expect to have at least half of their employees in the office in that same time frame.
    • There are also fewer business leaders now planning to reduce their physical footprint due to the pandemic: 40% now have firmed-up plans for reducing the amount of office space they’re leasing — compared to 49% when we polled in November.
  • Looking forward to public events: More than half of business leaders (53%) now expect large gatherings, such as concerts and sports events, to resume within the next 3 months — provided that there’s a cap on the number of attendees.

Taxes are now most top of mind for local business leaders — replacing employment as the top issue holding Chicago back when we polled in November.

  • 23% overall said taxes was the biggest issue holding Chicago back, and leaders at larger companies were even more emphatic on this: 38% of executives at enterprise-sized companies felt this way — compared to only 18% of executives from mid-sized companies.
  • In November 22% said employment was the biggest issue; only 17% selected employment as the top issue in this most recent poll, indicating that they believe the worst of pandemic-related job losses are behind us. 

Leaders are divided on the rift between the Chicago Teachers Union and Lori Lightfoot, but they overwhelmingly support an elected school board — as the issue continues to pick up steam and supporters .

  • The majority(56%) said both the CTU and Mayor Lightfoot are equally to blame for the poor relationship; but more leaders say the onus is on CTU than on Mayor Lightfoot: 28% said CTU is to blame, and only 17% said Lightfoot is to blame.
  • A strong majority (79%) of business leaders say they support legislation that would open the Chicago School Board up to election (vs. mayoral appointments). 
    • 29% strongly support; 50% somewhat support.

This survey was fielded online from Mach 9 – March 26, 2021, among a sample of 200 Chicago DMA business executives split between 150 midsize and 50 enterprise firms. Business executives are defined as Business Owner or Equity Partner; President, Chairman, or C-level Executive; Managing Director; Senior Vice President; Vice President; or Director. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo.

Download the full data tables here