Lower oil, energy prices bring relief for businesses

With U.S. oil prices hovering around $83 a barrel—and trying to bounce off lows not seen in years—business owners are welcoming lower energy costs as ventures, large and small, grapple with a variety of pressures including higher expenses for health care and wages. Plus, lower fuel prices could translate to more spending by consumers—just in time for the holiday shopping season.

The recent national average for gasolinea big cost for many businesseswas $3.14 for a gallon of regular fuel, according to AAA. That's a new 2014 low, according to AAA.

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Gregory Smith is founder and president of Energy Optimizers, USA. Based in Tipp City, Ohio, the company provides energy-efficiency solutions for both businesses and government groups. Energy costs are a major concern for clients.

"It's at the core of what we do," Smith said. "If they [our clients] can reduce what they pay to utility companies, they can put more back into their businesses."

Smith shared his comments at Inc. 5000, a gathering of small-business owners in Phoenix this week.

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Lower operational costs always are welcome, says Jesse Dundon, founder of Hathway, an agency devoted to Web design and digital strategy in San Luis Obispo, California.

"If energy prices continue to fall, it's going to decrease our operational costs and the servers that we pay for through Amazon," Dundon said. "As we grow, energy costs do represent a big portion of our expenses," he said.

Many entrepreneurs feel the same way.

Energy costs are one of the top three business expenses for 35 percent of small businesses, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

The primary energy cost for 38 percent of smaller firms is operating vehicles. One-third of small businesses cited heating and cooling costs, and one-fifth cited operating equipment, according to the NFIB.

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Inc. magazine President Eric Schurenberg says falling energy prices are not unlike a "tax cut" for small companies.

"It's always beneficial for Main Street," Schurenberg said. "Entrepreneurs have told us [energy costs] are a big portion of their outlays."

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And more available cash means less stress, and more resources to innovate and drive business gains.

"When companies have more margins, they can invest more and they are more aggressive about being creative and trying things," said Richard Milam, founder and chief executive of EnableSoft, a technology software development firm based in Orlando, Florida.

Now the hope is energy costs will stay low heading into the holiday season, giving consumers more cash to spend, and Main Street a solid retail season. Schurenberg said Inc. 5000 survey data show 57 percent of businesses feel the outlook for their company is excellent.

Dundon, of Hathway, added he already has plans for the money due to lower energy prices.

"We'd give it to our employees—pay them bonuses," Dundon said. "And invest in research and development."