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Despite struggles, small business owners upbeat

A flurry of surveys about the attitudes of small business owners have surfaced lately and they paint a pretty rosy picture.

For instance, a survey from American Express finds entrepreneurs are confident about their business prospects and cash flow concerns have dropped to the lowest levels since the fall of 2007.

In addition, fewer small business owners say they are “stressed out” by the economy. In 2007, the survey found 70 percent were nervous about the direction of the nation’s economy and today only 56 percent feel on edge.

“The recession’s silver lining is that small business owners have become more adept at navigating an uncertain economy, gaining valuable experience and putting it into practice along the way,” said Denise Pickett, president of American Express OPEN, a payment card issuer.

More important for the economy and creation of jobs, 55 percent of owners surveyed plan to make capital investments over the next six months, an increase from 50 percent a year ago. Capital spending by all businesses, regardless of size, has been an anchor on economic growth.

The American Express report matches a similar survey from U.S. Bank saying for the first time in five years a majority of small business owners are optimistic. The report finds 70 percent of owners surveyed describe the financial health of their business as good, very good or excellent, up from 64 percent in 2010.

“We’re pleased to see small business optimism at a five-year high. The survey results confirm what we’re hearing in the field. Business is strong, and while uncertainty remains and is dampening their plans to hire and expand, their outlook for 2015 is trending positive,” said John Elmore of U.S. Bank.

Small businesses are the top national employers. The March reading of private sector hiring by ADP saw an increase in payrolls of 191,000 for the month, and that more than a third -- 72,000 -- were the result of small business activity.

“The job market is coming out from its deep winter slumber. Job gains are consistent with the pace prior to the brutal winter and even better numbers are likely in coming months as the winter warms,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

ADP will release its April reading on employment on Wednesday.

Small business owners are not without concerns. The U.S. Bank survey finds federal debt, health care reform and taxes are the most important national issues. Last year, the list included debt, health care, and also jobs as a concern.

On a more personal side, 74 percent of business owners in California say the rewards of being an entrepreneur outweigh the demands. Nearly three-quarters say they are “very happy” with their lives and 79 percent attribute their happiness entirely or somewhat to being a small business owner.

And, since so many small business owners sink a big portion of their revenues into salaries and expansion of the company, they are concerned they are not saving enough to meet their retirement needs. On average, the owners believe they will need $1.25 million to retire and, as a result, may have to push off retirement for a few years.

Most small business owners have struggled to survive during the Great Recession and are now ready to realize the fruits of their labors. But, if they have learned one thing, it is that there will be other economic cycles to test their resolve and next time they will be better prepared.

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