While doubts persist, small business owners are growing more optimistic about the direction of the U.S. economy. That’s according to Union Bank N.A.’s just-released Small Business Economic Survey, an annual analysis that also identified positive trends in owners’ hiring plans and hours-worked.
Overall, 41% of small business owners believe the national economy is headed in the right direction, up 10 percentage points from last year and 16 percentage points from 2012. The results echo those in the ad specialty market specifically, where the Counselor Confidence Index – an exclusive measure of distributor outlooks on their business and the industry overall – recently reached its highest point since the metric was introduced more than a year ago.
"These results reflect the optimism we've seen among small business owners as they continue to generate new business and expand, but with an eye toward restraint given past economic challenges," said Todd Hollander, Union Bank’s executive vice president.
Despite a four percentage-point rise in layoffs last year, most survey respondents intend to maintain the same staffing and capital expenditures in 2014, with more businesses (26%, up 3 points) planning to hoist capital spending and fewer companies (6%, down 2 points) anticipating layoffs. Of the 15% of respondents that indicated they plan to add staffers, nearly 70% said they will hire full-timers – up 14% from 2013.
The rise in the number of respondents planning to hire full-time staff coincides with another part of the survey that found that more owners (55%, up 11 points) worked longer hours in 2013 due to increased business. “Small business owners,” says Hollander, “are working harder than ever.”
Based on responses from 500 businesses, the survey additionally found that more (29%, up 11 points) certified women, minority and veteran-owned businesses plan to bolster staff levels in 2014. About 28% of such businesses reported benefitting from the Small Business Jobs Act in 2013, and were more likely to apply for a loan or access to credit last year than non-certified businesses. "These findings reflect the interest we are seeing among more multicultural businesses to apply for loans, and this is a good indication that diverse business owners are optimistic about the future," said Frank Robinson, Union Bank’s senior vice president and public affairs manager.