Herschel Pitts’ medical-supply company in south Augusta will be growing over the next year with several capital improvements scheduled.
Pitts, a partner at United Medical Enterprises, said the company will be purchasing a $300,000 printing press and a $30,000 air-conditioning unit this year.
“Our business has done well, but being connected to the medical industry has helped a lot,” he said. “We are going to grow this year, but we’ve been growing a little each year.”
A new survey released by Wells Fargo and Gallup suggests 2012 will be the best year for small-business expansion since 2008. The study surveyed 600 small business owners in January and found that that 28 percent plan to increase their company’s capital spending in the next 12 months. That number might not sound impressive, but it is the highest percentage the index has recorded since January 2008.
Remer Brinson, the president and CEO of First Bank of Georgia, said he saw 2011 as a year when the economy started to reach equilibrium. This year, he said, will hopefully bring some modest gains.
“I feel like most of my customers are cautiously optimistic about this year, more than the last two or three years,” he said.
First Bank has plans to build a new branch in Evans, in front of the Kroger on Washington Road, this year.
Even with steady improvement, Stan Norton, a partner with Industrial Rubber & Supply of Augusta, said the economy has a long way to go. His company made a good deal of capital improvements late last year, but he thinks businesses are watching the presidential election before they make major decisions.
“You just never know how the tax code is going to play out,” he said. “As it gets closer to the election, I think you’ll see people waiting to make any big purchases.”
Norton said it’s good news that the economy is on the upswing, but smart business owners will remain on their toes for some time.
“Compared to five years ago, we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he said. “It’s climbing, but slowly climbing.”
Tammy Shepherd, the president and CEO of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, said she is aware of several businesses that are considering expansion in 2012, especially into the Grovetown market.
“The Grovetown area is prime because of their high growth and numbers,” she said.
Shepherd and her staff often provide statistical information to businesses thinking about expanding, and although they have had more inquiries over the past several months, most are still in the exploratory phase. She said it’s still early to say that local businesses are out of “survival mode.”
“We’re definitely heading that way,” she said. “The good news is that people are asking and thinking about it.”
Christine Allewelt is moving her New Moon Cafe in downtown Augusta to a larger location.
“Smart small-business people are always looking for opportunities, and cautiously looking to expand,” she said.
Times might be tough, she said, but a healthy business should still be growing.
“You have to look at your own business, know your numbers and make a wise decision for your business,” she said.
The past several years have seen a lot of small businesses go under, Allewelt said, but the remaining ones are more likely to be around for a while.
“I think the small businesses who have made it through the recession came out leaner, meaner and smarter,” she said. “I don’t think any of us are suffering from a heavy dose of optimism.”