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A growing number of companies are finding it difficult to recruit skilled workers, which threatens to curtail profits and growth, according to a quarterly survey conducted by the Washington-based National Association for Business Economics.

The results reinforce data coming out of the U.S. this year, which show a tightening labor market amid low interest rates and an economic expansion. Many economists expect the jobs market to start putting pressure on wages and inflation, though that phenomenon has yet to fully materialize.

The results of NABE’s July Business Conditions Survey published on Monday showed that 34 percent of respondents have had trouble hiring skilled employees over the last three months, up from 27 percent in January. The Washington-based association polled 101 panelists, who are economists from companies and industry associations.

NABE survey analyst Patrick Jankowski said businesses in Houston, where he’s based, are under pressure to find workers with more than a high-school diploma but less than a four-year university degree to fill vacancies in the oil and construction industries.

“When you cannot bring in the workforce you need, it’s going to affect your sales and affect your profits,” Jankowski said.

Improving Pay

In response, companies are sponsoring foreign workers, expanding their search and hiring more independent contractors, according to the survey. They’re also boosting automation, stepping up internal training and in some cases improving pay, Jankowski said.

Perhaps at least partially as a result, more than a third of respondents cited labor costs as having the largest negative impact on their profits so far this year.

Still, more firms are experiencing higher sales and profit margins, and an increased number are boosting investments. While expectations for economic growth have been tempered a bit, 60 percent of respondents still expect gross domestic product to climb faster than 2 percent over the next year, which is in line with market estimates.