Business leaders more optimistic about the economy

Americans aren't too confident in the economy, but business leaders are feeling better than they have in years.

Some 63 percent of private company leaders say they are optimistic about the U.S. economy, a new study shows. That's the highest level since early 2011, according to the latest survey from management consulting firm PwC. At the same time, they are decidedly less enthusiastic about the world economy, with 37 percent feeling optimistic about what's happening overseas.

Business leaders are willing to put money behind their enthusiasm, with more than a third saying they are planning major new investments. Just don't expect them to invest much in their own employees. Although most private companies are planning to hire, they say they will only increase headcount by 1.6 percent. "So while yes, employers are hiring, they're being very selective about it," write the authors of the report.

And they're not paying much more, either. Companies said they are only budgeting for a 2.75 percent wage increase for the typical hourly worker over the next year. That's enough to keep up with inflation, but barely. The cost of food and shelter rose about 3 percent over the last year, though gasoline and energy prices are in decline.

Private companies are getting pretty specific about the types of workers they want to hire. For seven straight quarters, more companies are planning to hire skilled blue-collar workers, said Rich Stovsky, PwC's private company services leader, in the report.

"It points to demographic shifts in the workforce and to core changes in U.S. manufacturing, where employees with specialized skills are increasingly replacing workers who typically manned pre-recession factory floors," he added.

Those workforce changes could also signal wage growth down the road, Stovsky added. That would be a welcome relief for U.S. workers who haven't seen wages increase much lately. American wages have only risen by 2 percent this year, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.