NFIB Industry-Specific Report: Small Business Economy Update

Date: August 31, 2020

Small businesses in the construction, manufacturing, retail, and services industries

Washington, D.C. (Aug. 31, 2020) – The NFIB Research Center released a Small Business Economic Trends Industry-specific survey highlighting the construction, manufacturing, retail, and services industries. NFIB released a previous quarterly report in May 2020.

“Small businesses are working hard to stay open while they continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic,” says Holly Wade, NFIB Director of Research & Policy Analysis. “This report shows that some industries are recovering faster than others, but there is still much work to be done.”

The key findings include:


  • The July Optimism Index for construction was 100.6, up 9.1 points from April’s quarterly report and 1.8 points higher than the overall Index of all firms.
  • Demand for new construction has remained high and the industry has a better than average outlook than the rest of the economy.
  • The demand for new workers in construction remains high as the industry had higher than average job openings and plans to increase employment.
  • A net 24% plan to increase their workforce in the next three months.


  • The July Optimism Index for manufacturing was 100.5, a 13.1 point increase from April.
  • Earnings trends over the last quarter were weaker in manufacturing than other industries, a net negative 46% of firms experienced lower earnings over the last quarter.
  • Future sales expectations rebounded, a 64 point increase since April to a net 17%.
  • Sales growth will be the key driver of earnings changes and manufacturing firm owners are expecting a strong recovery from record low levels experienced earlier this year.


  • The July Optimism Index for retail was 99.9, closely tracking to the overall economy and 10 points better than the last quarter.
  • A net 10% of retailers report current inventory levels “too low”, compared to only 1% of all small firms.
  • Retailers plan to increase inventories more than the average as a net 13% plan to increase their current inventory levels.


  • The July Optimism Index for services remains below the overall at 97.1; services have not recovered as much as other industries after a smaller decline in April then the rest of the economy.
  • Owners became more optimistic about economic trends and decided they needed to “staff up,” increasing the percent of service firms with hiring plans.
  • The service sector reported a 46 point increase in the net percent expecting higher real sales.

NFIB’s latest survey on the impact COVID-19 has had on small businesses shows about one-in-five small business owners will have to shut their doors if current economic conditions do not improve over the next six months. In addition, 44% of small business owners surveyed said they would apply or re-apply for a second Paycheck Protection Program loan if eligible.

The full survey is available here

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