Rocky Mountain Region’s Middle Market Recovering Faster Than National Average

Higher Projections for Revenue and Employment Growth in 2021

by Celia Dietrich and Doug Farren

Illustration of people lifting arrow to show recovery

A collaboration between Dietrich Partners, a Denver-based management consulting firm, and the National Center for the Middle Market, housed at The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business, recently released the findings from the Rocky Mountain Region Middle Market 2020 Performance and 2021 Outlook report. The report reveals that the Rocky Mountain region’s middle market businesses are experiencing faster economic recovery and stronger business performance than the national average. 

Between December 2019 to December 2020, 49% of Rocky Mountain middle market businesses experienced year-over-year revenue growth and 30% added new jobs. This compares to the national average of 46% of middle market businesses that experienced revenue growth and 22% that expanded their workforce over this same period. 

The region’s middle market executives also report stronger optimism about the future, projecting 8.2% revenue growth in 2021. This growth rate is double the national average and stronger than the region’s historical projections. Further, nearly half of the region’s middle market businesses are planning to add new jobs in 2021, compared to one-third of their peers across the country who are projecting employment growth. 

The survey data, coupled with more than 40 qualitative middle market executive interviews, shine a light on the opportunity ahead for the Rocky Mountain region. The optimistic outlook we are seeing from executives is a strong indicator that many middle market businesses have quickly moved out of a defensive business survival mode and into building forward momentum with longer-term business strategy in mind. As the economic recovery continues, businesses are gaining confidence to engage in a more comprehensive strategic planning process in order to strengthen their competitive advantage for the years ahead.

In planning for the future, 56% of the Rocky Mountain region’s middle market executives report a willingness to invest immediately rather than holding cash. Our survey finds that information technology is the top destination for investment dollars across the middle market nationally but investing in acquisitions is nearly twice as likely in the Rocky Mountain region.

The Rocky Mountain region’s middle market businesses have historically experienced stronger performance than the segment as a whole, with higher revenue and employment growth between 2016 to 2018. Interestingly, the region’s middle market businesses experienced declining performance beginning in 2019 and into 2020, yet have experienced a faster recovery and ended the year with a slightly higher revenue growth than the national average. 

While the Rocky Mountain region is not immune to the tumultuous economic impacts of the past year and overall experienced dramatic decline in performance alongside the rest of the nation, the region’s middle market is poised well as we continue the economic recovery.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) was another element that was top-of-mind for businesses this past year and was included in the Middle Market Indicator survey for the first time. The Rocky Mountain region’s middle market shares strong views on the topic and is more likely than other areas of the country to have DE&I policies in place. For example, 59% of the region’s middle market companies report having a documented process for ensuring a diverse slate of candidates are interviewed for open positions, compared to the national average of 41%.

The middle market is comprised of companies with annual revenues between $10 million and $1 billion and is a large market segment that drives the health of local economies and generates a disproportionate share of jobs. In the Rocky Mountain region, the middle market represents 10,200 companies located in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Collectively, the region’s middle market businesses employ 2.8 million people and generate a total of $498 billion in annual revenues. 

The report is derived from NCMM’s Middle Market Indicator survey conducted among 1,000 C-suite executives of middle market companies, including 50-100 middle market companies within the Rocky Mountain region each year. Dietrich Partners collaborated with NCMM to expand the research and conducted interviews with middle market executives across industries within the Rocky Mountain region, to provide qualitative insight supporting the survey data.

To download the full the report, please visit Dietrich Partners or National Center for the Middle Market.

Confidence

Historically, Rocky Mountain region middle market leaders express a higher level of local confidence than their peers in other parts of the country.

Q4 2016 Q4 2017 Q4 2018 Q4 2019 Q4 2020
Rocky Mountain Region 89% 93% 95% 94% 75%
Average across the U.S. 86% 88% 89% 89% 71%

Capital Investment

After reaching a five-year low in Q2 2020 when “invest” and “save” attitudes met at 50%, appetites for investment remain conservative compared to previous years.

Q4 2016 Q4 2017 Q4 2018 Q4 2019 Q4 2020
Invest 73% 72% 75% 77% 56%
Save 27% 28% 25% 23% 44%

COVID-19 Impact

The most difficult aspects of running a business in the current environment, according to Rocky Mountain region middle market executives:

Maintaining customer relationships and engagement 63%
Ongoing uncertainty 62%
Maintaining employee communication, engagement and productivity 53%
Continuity of operations 51%
Working capital management/cash 41%

Source: Rocky Mountain Region Middle Market 2020 Performance And 2021 Outlook

Celia Dietrich is the founder and executive chair of Dietrich Partners, a Denver-based management consulting firm that helps middle market to Fortune 500 clients maximize the value of transactions, deliver key programs, and optimize overall operational performance. 

Doug Farren is the managing director of the National Center for the Middle Market at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. Since launching the NCMM in 2011, he leads the day-to-day operations of the Center.

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