At a CBIA seminar yesterday where I spoke, several speakers discussed the challenges that exist for companies in these economic times. One CBIA economist projected that the current recession will not bottom out in Connecticut until late summer or fall 2009.

But the times also present opportunities, as well, the speakers said. Indeed, now may be the time for companies to find and recruit terrific talent that may be available in the labor market through no fault of their own.

Indeed, an article in today’s BusinessWeek suggests that for small companies, now may be a great time to make such an investment.

Still, despite the overall gloomy forecasts, the downturn also presents hiring opportunities for small businesses. For starters, there is a huge wealth of talented applicants in search of work at the moment. "If you want to hire someone today, it is like buying a car or house," says [one economist]. "Employees are cheap, good, and readily available. Nobody is complaining about the quality of applicants. The choices you have now are much improved." … "If you are a buyer of labor, this is a buyer’s market."

The major job cuts at large corporations also translates into a boon for small business owners who have the resources to hire workers who were perhaps unattainable previously. In November, the Computing Technology Industry Assn., an information technology trade group based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., published a survey that showed that 85% of the 772 small- and medium-size businesses in the U.S., Canada, and Britain that it questioned planned to hire new employees within the next 12 months. And in a slight shift away from the deluge of dreary numbers, SurePayroll, the Glenview (Ill.) payroll administrator that tracks small-business hiring trends, reported in November that 214 small businesses that participated in its survey increased their hiring by 0.26% to 3.3%, year-to-date.

Of course, there is a word of caution as well.  If employers are laying off staff for "financial reasons" and then hiring new staff to fill those positions, it will have some explaining to do. On the other hand, if the company wants to shed some of its poorest performers (and tells them that their employment is terminated for performance-related reasons) and cherry-pick from the talent available, now may be a good time to do so.