Economic Outlook Continues to Improve but CEOs Want Faster Action

Although COVID-19 has forced many employees to work from home, CEOs report that productivity is "about the same"
June 12, 2020

The second special edition of University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs quarterly CEO Economic Outlook Survey found that CEO sentiment has continued to improve after dealing with COVID-19 for another month, but CEOs are unhappy with the pace of reopening the state.    

Overall expectations for sales, capital spending, and employment over the next six months all increased compared to expectations at the end of April. Fifty-eight percent of CEOs reported that compared with their expectations for their businesses at the end of April, the last month had been “about as expected.” Nearly 28% reported it to be “much better than expected,” while about 14% reported “much worse than expected.”

More than 67% of CEOs expect to continue to operate without significant layoffs. Only 19% expect significant layoffs, while about 14% are uncertain at this time. 

Seventy-three percent of CEOs whose workforce has shifted to work-from-home report that productivity is “about the same.” Twelve percent rate it “much better,” while 15% rate it “much worse.” And 42% expect that compared with their workforce in January, more employees will work from home after the crisis is over.  

Although nearly 37% of CEOs indicate that Virginia’s timetable for reopening the state is “about right,” nearly half find it “a little too slow” (17%) or “way too slow” (30.4%).  About 11% rate it “a little too fast,” and only 5% rate it “way too fast.”   

This month, 56.1% of CEOs expect sales to be lower over the next six months (with an improvement from 77% last month), and 42.7% expect the decline to be more than 10 percentage points (compared with 66%). About 32% expect sales to increase (vs. 13%), while 12.2% expect sales to remain flat (vs. 10%).  

About 52% of CEOs expect capital spending to decrease (compared with 73% last month), while nearly 10% expect capital spending to increase over the next six months (no change). More than 38% expect capital spending to remain flat (vs. 17%). 

Twenty-seven percent of respondent CEOs expect employment to decrease over the next six months (down from 37% last month). Fifty-one percent expect employment to remain flat (vs. 53%), and 22% expect an increase in employment (vs. 10%). 

The Robins School and VACEOs jointly conduct the quarterly survey, which regularly asks about expectations for sales, capital spending, and employment, plus other relevant issues, helping Virginia companies anticipate business conditions and plan for growth. This is the second time it has been done at a time other than end of quarter. The Robins School adapted the survey from the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of American companies that conducts a similar survey nationally. Randy Raggio, associate dean at the Robins School, administers the survey and collects the responses. The quarterly survey has been administered since 2010. 

The following survey results from April and May of 2020 show projections for the next six months for sales, spending and employment:

Projected 6 months sales, spending and employment



2020 May

2020 April


No Change



No Change


How do you expect your company’s sales to change in the next six months?







How do you expect your company’s U.S. capital spending to change in the next six months?







How do you expect your company’s U.S. employment to change in the next six months?








“Despite the uncertainty that remains around future policies, we see a gradual increase in CEO sentiment.” said Raggio. “These monthly surveys have given us a unique look at how sentiment has inched upwards as the situation has begun to stabilize.”  

“I’m relieved to see that small business CEOs feel like the worst is over, and that optimism is ticking up slightly,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of VACEOs. “I think it is also a good sign that few of these CEOs have resorted to layoffs, indicating a belief that business will rebound sooner, rather than later.”

“As companies begin the slow climb out of this steep downturn, they will have to draw upon the ingenuity and skill of their employees to discover new ways of doing business,” said Mickey Quiñones, dean of the Robins School.

Economic Outlook Index

Survey Date

CEO Economic Outlook Index

May 2020


April 2020


Q1 2020


Q4 2019


Q3 2019


Q2 2019


Q1 2019


Q4 2018


Q3 2018


Q2 2018


Q1 2018


Q4 2017


Q3 2017


Q2 2017


Q1 2017


Q4 2016


Q3 2016


Q2 2016


Q1 2016


Q4 2015


Q3 2015


Q2 2015


Q1 2015


Q4 2014


Q3 2014


Q2 2014


Q1 2014


Q4 2013


Q3 2013


Q2 2013


Q1 2013


Q4 2012


Q3 2012


Q2 2012


Q1 2012


Q4 2011


Q3 2011


Q2 2011


Q1 2011


Q4 2010


Q3 2010


Q2 2010


* Record high

Eighty-two CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered May 20-22. Multiple industries are represented in the sample, including construction, manufacturing, finance, insurance, and retail. The average company whose CEO responded to this survey had about $21 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was about 47. 

The Council continues to expand the survey beyond its members, offering any area business owners whose companies gross at least $1 million in annual revenue the opportunity to participate. If enough businesses participate, the Council will provide survey results by industry. Participation is free, and all participants will receive copies of the survey data. 

Business owners and CEOs who would like to participate in the next survey should contact Scot McRoberts at

The Virginia Council of CEOs is a nonprofit association whose mission is to connect the CEOs of small and mid-sized businesses for learning and growth. The Council is led by a volunteer board of directors, advisory board and a small staff. Currently, there are 235 CEO members, mainly in Richmond and Charlottesville. Learn more at

The Robins School of Business is the only fully accredited, highly-ranked undergraduate business school that also is part of a highly-ranked liberal arts university. U.S. News ranks the Robins School’s MBA program #2 in Virginia. The school’s executive education division offers customized training and consulting to area businesses.