US business: new optimism on economy

Although the nation's major economic indicators dropped more in May than in any month this year, businessmen are showing much more confidence in the economy.

Fifty-four percent of the respondents to a national Business Confidence Survey, conducted by the US Chamber of Commerce, say the general business climate is becoming "more favorable." That is an increase from 24 percent three months ago and from only 3 percent a year ago.

This is good news, according to Chamber of Commerce analysts. It means a likely increase in business investments, which can mean more jobs. The analysts attribute the rise in confidence to the improved economic climate President Reagan is providing.

But these and other analysts warn that leaving economic improvements up to the President would be a grave mistake. Productivity -- the number of products or amount of services produced per worker -- declined in the 1970s. Reversing that trend requires some tough reforms by business leaders, not just by government, analysts say.

"I'm concerned a lot of businessmen are sitting back and saying: 'Productivity? Well, President Reagan is addressing that,'" says Don. G. Mizaur , senior vice-president of the American Productivity Center in Houston.

Reagan's election gives businessmen some added confidence to go ahead with investment plans, Mr. Mizaur says. The Reagan administration tax cuts, budget cuts, and regulatory cuts "will have a positive effect. But if that's all that's done, we're still going to see a stagnant economy," he says, adding that businessmen have to improve the efficiency of their operations.

One major recommendation for improving productivity, analysts says, is that of including workers more in decisionmaking.

Often workers on an assembly line or a shop floor are the first to spot ways to improve efficiency. But if they're not consulted, their suggestions may not reach the ears of management. And if a change is thrust down from management, it may not be well accepted by workers or be the most practical, these analysts say.

Most workers are willing to help, says Mizaur. American Productivity Center interviews and questionnaires among hundreds of workers over the past two years show "95 percent of them really want to do a better job than they are doing," he says.

Management and unions should have a less adversary role, says Armand R. Zazueta, general manager, operations/productivity of Continental Can Company, USA, which is located in San Mateo, Calif. Improving communications between both sides is important. Such changes -- not federal action -- can improve productivity, he says.

A Westinghouse supervisor in Georgia says he has started consulting union maintenance workers at the plant prior to hiring outside workers for a temporary , special maintenance job. They had been grumbling about such outside hiring. Now they have a chance to make a case that they can handle the work without slighting their normal duties. And in some cases they have been assigned the extra work, the supervisor says.

Productivity problems are "essentially attitudinal," says Carl Noller, director of the US Chamber of Commerce Productivity Center. But, he adds, "My views are not widely held in the business community."

He says that another Chamber of Commerce survey, to be released later this month, will show that business leaders cite government regulations and the attitude of workers as the two main barriers to increased prod uctivity.

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