Virginia Economic Outlook Improves Significantly in Q1 2021, Approaches Pre-pandemic Level

CEOs Expect Sales, Capital Spending, and Employment to Increase Over Next 6 Months
April 27, 2021

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND ─ The University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs’ quarterly CEO Economic Outlook Survey finds that expectations over the next six months for sales, capital spending, and employment all improved compared with expectations at the end of Q4 2020.

More than half (72%) of CEOs indicated that they expect sales to increase over the next six months. About 10% expected sales to be “significantly higher” while 62% expected sales to be “higher.” Additionally, about 5% expected sales to be “lower” while only 2% expected sales to be “significantly lower.” An additional 21% indicated they expected no change. 

Compared to their pre-COVID expectations, 33% of CEOs reported Q1 2021 revenue as “much better than expected” while only 10% reported Q1 2021 revenue as “much worse than expected” with another 57% reporting revenue “about as expected.” 

Approximately 44% of CEOs expect capital spending to increase over the next six months (compared with 25% last quarter), while more than 11% expect capital spending to decrease. More than 44% expect capital spending to remain flat.  

About 64% of respondent CEOs expect employment to increase over the next six months. Additionally, over 33% expect employment to remain flat while only 3% expect employment to fall. 

Taken as a whole, the results pertaining to sales, capital spending, and employment produce a significant improvement in economic outlook over results from the end of Q4 2020. 

In addition to the survey questions regarding sales, capital spending, and employment, the survey asked CEOs to express their plans, if any, with regard to requiring employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to returning to work in person now or in the future. Their response regarding required vaccinations was as follows:

  • Yes (will require vaccination): 8%
  • No (will NOT require vaccination): 61%
  • Unclear at this time whether vaccination will be required: 31%

Additionally, CEOs were asked what aspects of current business protocols (working from home, virtual meetings, hiring without in-person interviews) they see continuing post pandemic in a way that is advantageous to their business. Many indicated that the flexibility to conduct internal and client meetings virtually was both a time saver and resulted in economic savings and will likely continue. A few indicated new benefits such as “leveling the playing field” against larger competitors with deeper pockets as well as being able to attract talent that may not live in the Richmond area. One CEO mentioned that there was a concern that it was becoming more difficult to maintain a common company culture with remote work.

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 following survey results from the last quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 show projections for the next six months for sales, capital spending, and employment. 

Projected six-month sales, capital spending, and employment



Q4 2020

Q1 2021


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?







 “The survey results suggest that CEOs are very optimistic about the next six months,” said Boulger. “The index has risen significantly (103.0% versus 69.2% last quarter). This increase returns the index to the pre-pandemic level of hovering around 100 since early 2017.”

“The sharp V-shape of the data is consistent with what I am seeing in the small and mid-sized businesses with whom we work,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of VACEOs. “The federal stimulus has certainly done its job. The main challenge for these CEOs now is acquiring the workforce to support this rapid recovery and growth.”


Sixty-one CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered April 8-15. Multiple industries are represented in the sample, including professional services, health care, information technology, and finance. The average company whose CEO responded to this survey had about $18 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was 71.

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