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Survey: Small biz plans big hires in 2012

Small-business owners are poised to add more new workers over the next 12 months than at any point since early 2008, a new survey shows.

The small-business data dovetails with Thursday's Labor Department report that shows the number of people seeking unemployment aid neared a four-year low, an encouraging sign that strong hiring could continue in the coming months.

The latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index poll found that 22 percent of U.S. small-business owners said they expected to increase the total number of jobs at their companies over the next year. Only 8 percent of those surveyed said they intend to reduce their workforces over the next 12 months.

"This 14-percentage-point advantage for expected job growth is the largest since the +15 of January 2008, suggesting small-business owners are more optimistic about hiring now than at any time in the past four years," writes Dennis Jacobe, Gallup's chief economist, in a new report.

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The latest reading on small business hiring intentions is a sharp increase from the 2-point gain seen in October and the 4-point increase posted in July.

"Looking further back, the difference in small-business-owner hiring intentions reached a high of +25 in March 2004 (with 28 percent of small-business owners saying they intended to increase their employee base and 3 percent saying they intended to decrease it), and a low of -4 near the end of 2008 (14 percent increase vs. 18 percent decrease)," Jacobe writes.

See the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, courtesy of Gallup, below:

However, the state of the economy is still making small-business owners cautious in how they intend to bring new workers on to their payrolls. Only 26 percent of small-business owner said they would hire full-time workers, while more than 70 percent said they preferred to add temporary workers, contract workers or part-time employees.

"These are the same hiring preferences owners had in January 2008, when the recession was just getting underway," Gallup's Jacobe says.