Fidelity Bank: skilled labor tops Central Mass’ economic concerns.

Despite worries about the economy, more than half of small businesses in central Massachusetts planned to increase hiring in 2022, according to a recent survey by Leominster-based Fidelity Bank.

Fidelity Bank’s annual economic outlook survey of consumers and businesses found that 55% of businesses surveyed said they would increase investment in their workforce this year, the bank said in a statement. . The survey, which looked at the economy over the next 12 months, included responses from more than 200 businesses and more than 500 consumers.

The availability of skilled labor, inflation, and cost issues related to both overall living expenses and fuel and power were identified as key challenges for businesses. The survey found that 39% of businesses had confidence in the economy, up from 57% in 2021.

As companies focus on the availability of skilled labor and the recruitment and retention of new hires, the survey found that the top strategies companies could use to address staffing challenges included wage increases, flexible working hours and increased training.

Survey respondents are still concerned about the effects of COVID-19, but 35% of companies said changes made in response to the pandemic would continue indefinitely, and 30% said they would continue either for the year 2022, i.e. for the next two years. years. The bank said many companies see these changes as having a positive impact on their performance.

Businesses also want to leverage capital investment by purchasing new equipment, hiring new workers and investing in training over the next year, the survey found.

Starting in 2021, consumers’ top priority was to have more control over their finances, Fidelity Bank said, with a focus on setting and sticking to a budget and paying down debt while building a healthy nest egg.

Consumer households are apprehensive about the current economic environment, and worries about costs are prompting consumers to cut back on spending and put a higher priority on savings, the bank said. Despite inflation concerns, spending habits remained at 2021 levels, the bank said, with prices and value, convenience and security protocols listed as top issues associated with buying habits .

“We believe it is important to understand the concerns of our businesses and our consumers so that we can respond effectively as a community,” said Ed Manzi, Jr., president and CEO of Fidelity Bank, in the statement.