Survey: small business owners remain optimistic about growth

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Small business owners are largely optimistic about their ability to grow business and raise revenue in the year ahead, mirroring Wall Street’s sanguine outlook, according to a new index survey released Wednesday.

The MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index produced a score of 60.6. That means 60.6% of small business owners currently have “a positive outlook for their company and the environment in which they operate,” according to a statement from the insurance company and the business advocacy group, which plan to update the index every quarter. The survey was based on telephone interviews with 1,000 small business owners and operators.

A similar percentage of respondents, 60%, expect revenue to rise in the year ahead, compared to 9% who forecast a revenue decline. But they weren’t as eager about boosting their payrolls. About a third of them said they plan to hire more employees, while a majority said they’ll retain their current staffing levels.

“Our index revealed that there is a huge potential for growth on Main Streets across the country,” said Suzanne Clark, senior executive vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “Not only are small businesses looking to add employees, but they’re optimistic about growing their revenue and investing back in their companies.”

Still, fewer than half of respondents, 40%, graded their local economy positively. Only a third said they believe the U.S. economy is in “somewhat or very good” health. A quarter of them said the economy is in “poor or somewhat poor” health.

The index score is similar to other generally optimistic economic surveys that were recently released. The NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism — produced by the National Federation of Independent Business — registered 104.5 in April, the fifth month in a row with a score above 100. The index never registered above 100 during the Obama administration despite the recovering economy following the economic crisis in 2008.

Other findings from the the U.S. Chamber’s survey:

*Recruiting challenges. Only 27% of manufacturers and 26% of retailers said they’re receiving applications from “good or very good” recruits. A quarter of respondents said the quality of recruits applying for their positions is “poor.”

*Cautious about investing. Only a quarter said they plan to increase investments in their business in the upcoming year, while 56% plans to invest about the same amount.

*Southern optimism. Nearly half of small businesses in the South, 49%, said their local economy’s health is “somewhat good or very good.” Less than a third of small business owners in the Northeast, 31%, said the same.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Roger Yu on Twitter @ByRogerYu.