CHICAGO, IL – The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce’s annual Small Business Outlook Survey, presented by BMO Harris Bank, reveals that our region’s small business owners are cautiously optimistic going into 2020, but have growing concerns about our region’s taxes, regulatory requirements, and economic conditions. The research, which is sponsored by BMO Harris, was conducted by Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business and reflects responses from a cross-section of regional small business owners with fewer than 500 employees. Survey results are used to inform Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce’s programming and advocacy efforts.

 “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we must ensure they have the policies in place to help them grow and bring more jobs and economic growth to our region,” said Jack Lavin, President and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. “We are encouraged by Mayor Lightfoot’s recent efforts to streamline the business license process and are hopeful additional measures will be taken to provide the tools, resources, and reform needed to support our small businesses. We also must be mindful that more than 56% of respondents are having a hard time finding qualified candidates, reinforcing the need for our region to launch and expand existing training programs to build our pipeline of talent.”

“Being a small business owner is one of the most challenging jobs out there,” said Niamh Kristufek, head of U.S. business banking for BMO Harris Bank. “We want small businesses to make real financial progress, and the insights in this survey will help us create programs and services that work for Chicago area small businesses and equip them to better tackle the challenges they are facing, from access to capital to knowing when to hire.”

Survey Results

The survey focused on small business owners’ concerns and needs and this took a deeper dive into workforce and employment outlook.

Small Business Concern Highlights

Overall, 86% of business owners have concerns over taxes vs. 81% in the previous year. Managing cash flow is another area of concern, with approximately 75% of small businesses expressing lack of confidence in managing. We are also seeing a growing concern around regulatory requirements, with 74% of respondents concerned about regulations, a 6% increase. Access to capital remains a concern for 63% of respondents, up 2% from the previous year. Surprisingly, healthcare cost concerns dramatically reduced from 88% in previous year to 77% this year.

Small Business Needs Highlights

Small business owners often lack the bandwidth and expertise to tackle issues of importance to their business success. Market research led the way in needs, with 67% saying they lacked the expertise in this area, up 4% from the prior year. A full 41% of respondents need access to capital, up 35% from the previous survey. Dealing with local government continues to be a need, with 35% of respondents identifying this as an area they do not have expertise in, up 6% from the previous year.

Workforce Highlights

Talent development, attraction and retention remains a top concern. We saw a significant drop in the number of small businesses expecting to add full-time employees, 27% compared to 41% in the prior year. Adding part-time workers also saw a drop, though less substantial with only 33% of respondents indicating they would add part-time workers, down 3%. A full 56% of employers feel challenged in finding qualified candidates, citing lack of candidates with qualified skills (29%) and salary expectations (23%) as the top two reasons they are not able to fill positions.


Overall, 57% of small business owners still expect to expand their business in Illinois, down 4% from the previous year. However, expectations of expanding into other states stayed relatively flat at 31% vs. 32% the previous year and owners expecting to expand internationally were at 17% vs. 18% the prior year. A full three quarters of businesses still expect to grow this year and 58% are expecting to increase their revenues.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and its Small Business Development Center are dedicated to helping our region grow. For more information about the Chamber or its SBDC and the resources available to businesses of all sizes, visit SBDC.

About the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce represents over 1,000-member companies, their 400,000 employees, and over $24 billion in revenue. The Organization combines the power of its membership with its legacy of leadership and business advocacy to drive a dynamic economy. The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce focuses on delivering value for its members, making Chicagoland a world-class place to live and work.

About BMO Harris Bank

BMO Harris Bank provides a broad range of personal banking products and solutions through more than 500 branches and fee-free access to over 40,000 ATMs across the United States. BMO Harris Bank’s commercial banking team provides a combination of sector expertise, local knowledge and mid-market focus throughout the United States. For more information about BMO Harris Bank, visit the company fact sheet. Accounts are subject to approval. BMO Harris Bank N.A. Member FDIC. BMO Harris Bank is part of BMO Financial Group, a highly diversified financial services provider with total assets of CDN$839 billion, as of (July 31, 2019), and more than 45,000 employees.

Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business

The Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago educates responsible leaders who strengthen the local and global business system. Quinlan draws on the resources of a world-class location in the heart of Chicago, just off Michigan Avenue, and of industry-leading faculty to offer leading undergraduate, graduate, and executive education. Quinlan’s highly respected degrees include the Baumhart Scholars MBA for purpose-driven professionals and the one-of-a-kind Next Generation MBA. Learn more at