Small Business Outlook 2011: Optimism Is On Fire

Last Updated Jan 6, 2011 2:16 PM EST

The recession has technically been over since June 2009. Only now are small business owners buying the idea that prosperity and growth are at hand. But they are buying -- and in a big way.

It's hard to find any bad news in the latest survey of small business owners by Vistage International, a San Diego CEO organization that has been preparing a quarterly CEO Confidence Index since 2003. The results from the poll conducted during December 2010 reveal a small business community practically foaming at the mouth to embrace aggressive growth plans during 2011. For someone attempting to digest the news, the challenge is to pick which numbers are the most surprising and most significant.

My pick for the slam-dunk: At the end of 2008 when the recession was at its worst, virtually all -- 97 percent -- of the CEOs polled said economic conditions were deteriorating. In the current survey, only 7 percent said the same. If that's not a complete turnaround, there's no such thing.

Next-most significant: Hiring is headed up. For the first time in three years, the majority (54 percent) of respondents said they were planning to hire employees in order to satisfy increased demand. The number expecting to lay off workers was insignificant -- only 5 percent. And most expected the new hires to be permanent rather than temporary workers, another solid indicator of confidence.

Of the other highlights from the survey, increases in plans for investing in new plant and equipment jump out. Nearly half (46 percent) said they would increase investments in 2011. That's up from 34 percent a year ago. And very few have no plans to increase fixed investments, just 10 percent, compared to 44 percent two years ago. That's an excellent indicator for suppliers to these companies.

The Vistage survey is a good one, overseen by the University of Michigan and based on responses from 1,729 CEOs in the United States. The results are unequivocal. If you are still wondering whether 2011 is going to be a good year, wonder no more.

Mark Henricks has reported on business, technology and other topics for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and other leading publications long enough to lay somewhat legitimate claim to being The Article Authority. Follow him on Twitter @bizmyths.

Image courtesy of Flickr user dobrych, CC2.0

  • Mark Henricks

    Mark Henricks' reporting on business and other topics has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Inc., Entrepreneur, and many other leading publications. He lives in Austin, Texas, where myth looms as large as it does anywhere.