The survey of more than 100 local companies was conducted at the 2017 Bedfordshire Limited event, when Grant Thornton unveiled the results of its annual analysis of the county’s 100 top performing businesses.
This year’s study showed a healthy increase in profitability and employment.
The new poll results reveal the most important factor to support business growth for local companies over the next 12 months will be entering new markets for existing products and services (29%).
This is closely followed by hiring new people (27%), developing new products or services (19%) and acquisitions (13%).
The findings suggest this change in direction could be in response to a more challenging market and uncertainty over Brexit with more than 75% of firms saying the UK’s decision to leave the EU has impacted their strategic planning.
A further 55% of companies stated that business conditions are more difficult than this time last year.
Grant Thornton corporate finance director Steve White (pictured) said: “The Bedfordshire economy is in good health and the fact that local businesses are looking to enter new markets and recruit more people suggests optimism for the future.
“While there is clearly some uncertainty among Bedfordshire firms over Brexit, our survey findings suggest they are well placed to adapt their business strategies and are responding well to this changing environment.”
However, businesses looking to invest in new talent continue to face difficulties due to the ongoing shortage of people with the right skills and qualifications across the county and UK as a whole.
The poll results reveal this skills gap is by far the most significant issue (45%) followed by the availability of suitable talent locally (34%). Businesses also highlighted they had a role to play in improving the situation by offering demonstrable career prospects and competitive packages to employees.
Mr White added: “The skills shortage continues to be a major hurdle for businesses in Bedfordshire and it has the potential to impact future growth, particularly when new or specialist skills and experience are required to enter new markets.
“While there is no quick and easy solution, in the short term firms should review their incentivisation offering to new and existing employees to attract and retain talent in this competitive market.
“Longer term, firms can invest in and upskill younger employees through apprenticeships, taking advantage of the new Apprenticeship Levy scheme launched by government earlier this year.”