Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April Economic Survey As Bad as Virginia CEOs Had Expected

Another month into COVID-19, economic outlook starts to improve, but still a long way to go


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. 

For the first time ever, the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs conducted a follow-up to their quarterly CEO Economic Outlook Survey to determine how CEO sentiment had changed after dealing with COVID-19 for another month.  

This survey reports that sixty-four percent of CEOs reported that compared with their expectations for their businesses at the end of March, the last month had been “about as expected.” Nineteen percent reported it to be “much better than expected,” while 17% reported “much worse than expected.”

Overall, expectations in March, at the end of the first quarter of 2020, were the lowest seen in the survey’s 10-year history. Those numbers improved slightly by the end of April.

Economic Index Historical Data (April 27, 2020)

YearQuarter 1Quarter 2Quarter 3Quarter 4
April 2020-1.33
2020-18.73 (historic low)
2017108.97 (historic high)103.6399.17106.3


“These results confirm what I’ve been hearing from CEOs – that we may have hit bedrock, and many businesses can begin clawing their way out of this hole,” says Scot McRoberts, Executive Director of the Virginia Council of CEOs.  “What is unclear is how long their businesses will be at the bottom, and how quickly they can climb out.”

“Although the outlook still is not good, this month produced the largest improvement in the index in the survey’s history,” said Randy Raggio, Associate Dean at the Robins School of Business. Raggio administers the survey and collects the responses each quarter. He adds, “We intend to repeat the survey once a month until this crisis is over to track sentiment and to give Virginia CEOs a voice in the conversation.”

Mickey Quiñones, Dean of the Robins School of Business, says,“As adaptability becomes the name of the game, opportunities to develop new skills and organizational capabilities will become even more important. At the Robins School, we are working with business leaders and organizations to provide these opportunities through our various programs and executive education offerings.”


This month found that executives’ expectations for sales, hiring and employment improved slightly over last month. To summarize, CEOs predictions over the next six months include:

  • Seventy-seven percent of CEOs expect sales to be lower over the next six months (down from 87% last month) and 66% expect the decline to be more than 10 percentage points (compared with 71%).
  • Seventy-three percent of CEOs expect capital spending to decrease (compared with 82% last month)
  • Thirty-seven percent of respondent CEOs expect employment to decrease over the next six months (down from 54% last month)
  • 100 CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered April 20-23.
  • Multiple industries are represented in the sample, including construction, manufacturing, finance and insurance and retail
  • The average company revenue (most recent 12-month period): $20 million
  • The average employment count: 52


Because of the current crisis, CEOs were asked several questions that related specifically to COVID-19. 

  • About 64% believe that they will continue to operate without significant layoffs
  • 13% believe that significant layoffs are “probably” (5%) or “definitely” (8%) likely
  • Almost 24% are still uncertain at this time.

While dealing with the crisis, CEOs have identified skill gaps in their organizations. Although dealing with technology and a remote workforce was a concern, creative sales and marketing was the most frequently cited gap.

As one CEO commented, “I wish we had a full-time marketing professional to help us communicate and pivot during this time.” Another noted, “Employees who lack adaptability are standing out.”

When asked what more state and federal governments could do to help small businesses through the crisis:

  • more than 50% of the responses related to expanding or extending loan programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and helping companies to not default on existing loans, mortgages, and rent; an indication that CEOs clearly desire to keep their employees rather than release them to unemployment programs.  
  • One CEO called for “[B]etter guidance on the specifics of restrictions for business. Provide more guidance on how businesses can comply and adopt safety protocols while still continuing to operate.” 
  • Many advocated for expanded testing and availability of personal protection equipment (PPE), while others simply stated, “Open the economy.”

CEOs offered lots of advice for the government as it decides when to relax/remove restrictions on business operations. CEOs were split on ‘go slow’ versus ‘move fast,’ with some recommending a ‘cost/benefit’ approach. Part of the divergence between ‘go slow’ and ‘move fast’ can be explained by differences in risk by industry and region. CEOs advocating faster movement point out that opening up is not a mandate, but a choice. Those that wish to open, and customers who feel comfortable, should be allowed to conduct business, but those who are more vulnerable should be given the choice to stay home. 


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. 

This is the first time it has been done at a time other than end of quarter.

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.

Read Richmond Times-Dispatch coverage >



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 more than 200 CEO members, mainly in Richmond and Charlottesville. Learn more at



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.

Posted by Staff at 8:24 am

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