Thursday, October 10, 2019

Economic Outlook Falls For Second Consecutive Quarter

Read Richmond Times-Dispatch coverage >

Each quarter the Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs) and University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business partner to take the pulse of top executives in the region through a comprehensive Virginia CEO Economic Outlook Survey.

The third quarter 2019 CEO Economic Outlook survey by the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs finds that Virginia CEOs’ expectations for sales, capital spending, and employment over the next six months fell again compared to their expectations last quarter. Overall, expectations at the end of the third quarter of 2019 were similar to those last seen in the first half of 2014.

Scot McRoberts, co-founder VACEOs

Says Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs, “While the overall outlook declined again, the CEOs I speak with each day remain mostly optimistic. Of course, optimism is a defining characteristic of entrepreneurs! My gut tells me the decline is a product of anticipating a recession – most thought it would have happened by now – coupled with the ripple effects of tariffs on Chinese goods.”

“Uncertainty rather than pessimism seems to be driving the results,” said Randy Raggio, Associate Dean at the Robins School of Business. Raggio administers the survey and collects the responses each quarter. “One CEO commented, ‘I am neither optimistic or pessimistic; given the unknowns created by the current administration, I am simply uncertain and proceeding with caution.’ Others suggest that sales would be even higher if the job market were not so tight,” he adds.

Economic Index Historical Data

YearQuarter 1Quarter 2Quarter 3Quarter 4
2020-18.73 (historic low)
2017108.97 (historic high)103.6399.17106.3



CEOs were asked three questions related to tariffs.

  • More than 45% of CEOs said that their companies would not be impacted by continued tariffs on Chinese imports.
  • Nearly 50% indicated that a resolution of the trade dispute would increase their outlook slightly (36.36%) or significantly (11.36%).

CEOs were asked the way in which they expected continued tariffs to impact their business. 

  • Nearly one quarter (23.86%) said they would increase prices charged to customers 11.36% expected reduced profits, and a small percentage would reduce hiring (6.82%) or reduce capital spending (5.68%).  
  • More than 40% indicated that they definitely (26.14%) or probably (17.05%) supported the new tariffs on Chinese imports, even if business was hurt in the short run.
  • About a quarter (23.73%) were undecided, and about a quarter indicated that they definitely (17.05%) or probably (10.23%) did not support the new tariffs on Chinese imports.


The 2019 third quarter survey found that executives’ expectations for sales, hiring, and capital spending decreased. To summarize, CEOs predictions over the next six months include:

  • About 65 percent of CEO respondents expect sales to increase (down five percentage points from the last quarter) 
  • More than 32 percent of CEOs expect capital spending to increase (down five percentage points from last quarter)
  • Overall expectations for hiring fell from last quarter. About 47 percent of respondent CEOs expect employment to increase (down 5.5 percentage points from the last quarter)
  • 89 CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered September 17-25
  • Multiple industries are represented in the sample, including construction, manufacturing, finance, insurance, and retail 
  • The average company revenue (most recent 12-month period): $12 million
  • The average employment count: 65


The Robins School and VACEOs jointly conduct the quarterly survey, which regularly asks about expectations for sales, capital spending and employment, plus other relevant issues, helping Virginia companies anticipate business conditions and plan for growth. The Robins School adapted the survey from the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of American companies that conducts a similar survey nationally. Randy Raggio, associate dean at the Robins School, administers the survey and collects the responses each quarter. The survey has been administered quarterly since 2010.


The Council continues to expand the survey beyond its members, offering any area business owners whose companies gross at least $1 million in annual revenue the opportunity to participate. If enough businesses participate, the Council will provide survey results by industry. Participation is free, and all participants will receive copies of the survey data.

Business owners and CEOs who would like to participate in the next survey should contact Scot McRoberts at


The Virginia Council of CEOs is a nonprofit association whose mission is to connect the CEOs of small and mid-sized businesses for learning and growth. The Council is led by a volunteer board of directors, advisory board and a small staff. Currently, there are 230 CEO members.

The Robins School of Business is the only fully accredited, highly-ranked undergraduate business school that also is part of a highly-ranked liberal arts university. U.S. News ranks the Robins School’s MBA program #35 in the country. The school’s executive education division offers open enrollment courses and customized leadership development, training and consulting to area businesses.

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