Virginia Economic Outlook Continues to Improve During Q4

CEOs Share Expectations About Timing of Returning to 'Normal' Business Practices.
February 2, 2021

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND ─ The University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs’ quarterly CEO Economic Outlook Survey shows a small improvement in economic outlook over results from the end of Q3.

CEOs also shared their expectations regarding the timing of returning to “normal” business practices, which would include no longer needing to wear a mask and working primarily in person. Their responses were as follows:

  • Summer 2021 – 17%
  • Late 2021 – 43%
  • Sometime in 2022 – 29%
  • No expectation to return to “normal” – 10%

They also were asked what aspects of current business protocols (working from home, virtual meetings, hiring without in-person interviews) they see continuing post-pandemic. The overwhelming responses were a continuation of working from home for some workers/types of work and using Zoom or similar technology for what had previously required in-person meetings.

“The variation in expectations for a return to normal highlights the continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and its impact on businesses,” said Mickey Quiñones, dean of the Robins School. “It is interesting that some of the adaptations that have become widespread, such as Zoom meetings, will likely continue to influence the way we conduct business well into the future.”

The survey finds that expectations over the next six months for capital spending and employment improved compared with expectations at the end of Q3, while expectations of sales growth decreased somewhat on a percentage basis.

Slightly less than half of the CEOs (46%) indicated that they expect sales to increase over the next six months. Approximately 4% expected sales to be “significantly higher” while 41% expected sales to be “higher.” Additionally, approximately 23% expected sales to be “lower” while approximately 4% expected sales to be “significantly lower.” An additional 27% indicated they expected no change.

Compared to expectations at the end of Q1, 33% of CEOs reported Q4 revenue as “much better than expected” while 25% reported Q4 revenue as “much worse than expected” with another 42% reporting revenue “about as expected.” 

Approximately 26% of CEOs expect capital spending to decrease over the next six months (compared with 36% last quarter), while more than 24% expect capital spending to increase. More than 49% expect capital spending to remain flat. 

About 52% of respondent CEOs expect employment to increase over the next six months. Additionally, over 36% expect employment to remain flat, while 12% expect employment to fall.  

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. The Robins School adapted the survey from the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of American companies that conducts a similar survey nationally. Rich Boulger, associate dean at the Robins School, administers the survey and collects the responses. The quarterly survey has been administered since 2010. 

“The survey results suggest a continued positive outlook over the next six months,” said Boulger. “The index, which consists of an average of Virginia Council of CEO members’ expectations with respect to sales, capital spending, and employment, continues to rise slightly (69.2% versus 65.2% last quarter) at this difficult time. Although the incremental increase is not large, it reflects an ongoing positive sentiment.”  

“CEOs responded to this survey in the week following the attack on the U.S. Capitol and as news broke that Virginia’s vaccine rollout was moving more slowly than expected,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of VACEOs. “The index from this survey is still five points lower than at any point in the ten years before the pandemic. The CEOs I know are working hard to overcome in these challenging times and to save jobs, but most anticipate that the next six months will continue to be difficult.”

The following survey results from the last two quarters of 2020 show projections for the next six months for sales, capital spending, and employment. 

Projected 6 months sales, capital spending, and employment 

projected sales chart

The data for the last four years/sixteen quarters is depicted graphically below.  As can be seen, the index has hovered around a value of 100 from 2017 to 2019 prior to the pandemic. After a plunge in Q1 2020, it has rebounded to values in the sixties with a slight positive trend. 

economic outlook index

Seventy CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered January 11-15, 2021. 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 $14.4 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was about 388. 

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 a wide variety of businesses.


Media interested in learning more about the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs’ quarterly CEO Economic Outlook Survey should contact Associate Vice President of Media & Public Relations Cynthia Price at