North Central Massachusetts 2024 Economic Survey points to cautious optimism over inflation, cost of living, availability of skilled labor

If recent data from the North Central Massachusetts 2024 Economic Survey is any indication, the area, as well as the Commonwealth, could see light at the end proverbial tunnel of what have been uncertain and unsettling economic times in recent years.

The survey, in its 12th year and sponsored by Fidelity Bank, is conducted annually to North Central Massachusetts consumers and business owners, measuring perceptions on the current state of the regional economy, thoughts on last year’s economic performance, and projections for the remainder of 2024.

“There is a general tone of cautious optimism,” said Joseph Silva, chief lending officer, Fidelity Bank, as he presented the survey results recently before a capacity crowd of North Central Massachusetts business leaders at the 12th Annual Economic Forecast breakfast at Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg. “A year ago we had serious concerns about recession, the Federal Reserve and interest rates, and global tensions.  While we are weathering through these issues, inflation remains a hot-button item.”

Respondents to the 2024 survey identified inflation, cost of living, and the availability of skilled labor as ongoing threats to growth in the coming year. Gaining momentum are the key issues of immigration and the political climate as the US and the Commonwealth prepare for a major election cycle this fall. “The good news is, concerns over these issues have moderated year over year,” adds Silva, noting, “in particular, recessionary fears have eased considerably.”

According to the survey, regional business owners plan to increase investment in the coming year through hiring, training, new equipment, and expansion. Investment in technology is also expected to improve, with commitments towards website development, IT upgrades, and workflow automation leading the way. “Businesses investing in their futures is an excellent bellwether as to how local companies are feeling,” says Roy M. Nascimento, president and CEO, North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “These insights are invaluable in helping us understand what lies ahead for the North Central Massachusetts economy.”

Consumers, however, are taking a more cautious approach. While feeling secure jobwise, the data shows they are a bit more pessimistic about improving total family income potential. They are also taking a conservative approach to spending, while focusing on saving, paying off debt, and budgeting.

“We need to accept the premise that the economy is doing well,” commented Curtis Dubay, chief economist, United States Chamber of Commerce during remarks to attendees. “To consumers, it’s just not feeling that way because of the sting of inflation on basic necessities like groceries, housing, and energy.”

Rachael Aiken, CFP®, vice president and senior investment officer, Cape Cod 5, and contributor on the cable network, CNBC, echoed the optimism. “The concerns remain—geopolitics, elections, deficits and debt, however, the bulls are running and we should see a healthier market this year, despite expected volatility.”

The survey was completed by 700 consumers and business owners during the months of February and March, in partnership with the North Central Massachusetts Chamber as well as our four neighboring chambers—the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce, Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce, North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce, and the Wachusett Area Chamber of Commerce. Respondents were asked for their thoughts on the health of the Commonwealth and local economy now and into the future, threats and opportunities facing businesses, and thoughts on overall economic growth in the region, hiring plans, and the political climate, among others.

“The data clearly shows we are slowly turning the corner from a sentiment standpoint,” adds Silva. Coming off a strong 2021 and the resulting economic challenges we have faced as consumers and business owners the past two years, 2024 feels like we are starting our comeback.”

For the complete survey results and data compilation, go to 2024 Economic Survey.