posted: 7/9/2018 1:00 AM

Is it time to pat your back?

Jim Kendall

Tom Caprel says there's no more cruise control for the owners of small and mid-size businesses.

Even so, based on perceptions shared by Caprel and Ray Horn, two knowledgeable observers of not only the small and mid-size business communities but of the outside forces that impact us all, those who own and manage businesses today likely deserve a pat or two on the back.

For decades, explains Caprel, business owners have been able to divine "fairly clear signals" from the federal government, indicators that entrepreneurs could, generally, build strategies around.

That was then.

Still, "People who run businesses are pretty pragmatic folk," says Caprel, principal, BreakThrough Results Inc., a Riverside consulting firm. Consequently, needing to adapt to a President who regularly uses Twitter to introduce new policy directions, Caprel says that business owners are adjusting by looking at their ecosystems more often and making changes as necessary.

For many businesses, Caprel says that means a strategic review every six months, often every three months.

Even with the need to adapt to a different political and policy development atmosphere, Caprel says most business owners he talks with are "still optimistic." Although the retail sector "has been a little flat the past few months, and distributors agree that one way or another it will cost them more to do business, nobody seems fearful of a full-blown recession," Caprel says.

Even though he sees businesses at a different stage than does Caprel, Horn pretty much agrees with the optimistic outlook. The business owners he connects with -- Horn is a partner and mergers and acquisitions attorney at Meltzer, Purtill & Stelle LLC, a Schaumburg law firm -- tend to come with a "'We can make the best out of this' attitude," Horn says. "It's been a very good year."

There are issues, and Horn acknowledges "There could be some excuse for a pullback," but even in situations where "There is pressure for companies to transition -- for owners to sell and retire," the mood generally is positive.

Whether the ultimate intent is to buy or sell a business, jobs are a concern, with many business owners worrying about how to find workers. That, Horn says, is especially true in manufacturing.

But Horn sees "an incredible 'can do' attitude" that even with immigration uncertainty making it more difficult to find skilled workers, the outlook that flows to Horn from his small and mid-size business clients leaves him "as positive as I've felt in any recent year."

I expected more negativity from Caprel and Horn, both of whom are well-informed and honest. But a little introspection indicates that many business owners perhaps aren't facing "the same level of whipsaw we might expect," Caprel says. The typical business owner, he says "has been through a lot of up and down cycles."

Ultimately, the issues that so enrage talking heads and their guests on both the right and left may be nothing more than the current cycle playing out.

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