INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — There's a warning sign in the latest edition of the CBIZ Small Business Employment Index.
The index, which tracks hiring trends among more than 3,500 companies nationwide with 300 or fewer employees, fell by a seasonally adjusted 0.39% in February after posting a strong increase of 1.6% in January.
Independence-based business services firm CBIZ Inc. said the February numbers in part reflect "a historical trend for the month's numbers over the last 10 years, with winter weather typically contributing to a slowdown in economic activity."
But, CBIZ said, this year's data "has also been influenced by the wider-reaching economic impacts of the coronavirus and political landscape."
"It may be early to assess how the small-business sector could be impacted by the coronavirus epidemic, but it's clearly on the mind of consumers," Philip Noftsinger, CBIZ executive vice president, said.
"It's possible that the media attention is causing some small businesses to hold back on investments in labor until the overall impact is more clear."
CBIZ did note that in February, 74% of small businesses in its index "either increased staffing or kept it consistent." That does mean, though, that 26% decreased staffing levels.
"With a number of impacts on our economic outlook — from viruses to emergency Federal Reserve action on interest rates, to wild stock market swings, to the election news cycle — it may be some time before we see business owners engaging in new labor acquisition," Mr. Noftsinger said.
CBIZ describes itself as a "leading" provider of professional advisory services, focused on accounting, benefits and insurance, HR and payroll solutions.