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Optimism growing among small businesses, survey says

Bruce Carlow, co-owner of Trio Hardware in Plainview,

Bruce Carlow, co-owner of Trio Hardware in Plainview, is optimistic about the economy despite the past two years. Industrial accounts, he said, “have been maintaining and picking up our sales.” (Aug. 23, 2012) Credit: Chris Ware

Nearly a quarter of Long Island's small businesses are planning to add staff this year, though two-thirds think local economic conditions are bad, a small business survey said.

The 2012 Long Island Small Business Survey, sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, showed 64 percent of the 600 small business executives surveyed rate the financial health of their companies positively, in contrast to the 52 percent who felt that way in 2011.

About 24 percent said they are planning to add staff in 2013, compared to 16 percent who said they intended to hire in last year's survey.

Despite positive outlooks for their individual businesses, 67 percent of executives gave the local economy a negative rating in 2012. In 2011, 78 percent gave it a bad rating.

"You get this sense people are more optimistic and believe that they've seen better performance recently," said Bethpage president and CEO Kirk Kordeleski. "But overall, it's still scary to them, and we've got challenging economic conditions."

Despite the caution, willingness to increase staff bodes well for the local economy, said Leonie Huddy, director of the Center for Survey Research at Stony Brook University, which conducted the survey. The projected hiring is a good sign, Huddy said, "since we've had this concern that the recovery is great for business owners but not for employees."

Some of that hiring has taken place at Hauppauge marketing and advertising firm Austin & Williams, said executive vice president Eva LaMere. The firm caters to clients in the financial, health care and higher education sectors, which have seen consistent growth, she said.

"In the past year we've grown our staff by about 15 percent," adding six people, LaMere said. "I have had to go to a staffing firm to find talent, because I need them quickly."

Francesca and Bruce Carlow, co-owners of Trio Hardware in Plainview, also said they are optimistic, but the past two years have been tough. They are maintaining their staffing, they said.

"Our [individual] customer accounts are way down," Bruce Carlow said, "but we're lucky that the industrial accounts have been maintaining and picking up our sales. I don't understand why, if they're picking up, the economy isn't picking up."

Chris Brown, CEO of Mid-Island Medical Supply in Wantagh, said his company has seen sales growth, but he was still surprised by the rosy hiring plans reported in the survey.

"How is Obamacare going to affect us? Nobody really knows," Brown said. "And there's a lot of concern out there with the budget the government hasn't put out yet and arguing over the debt ceiling."
In the face of that uncertainty, he said, "most small businesses are going to hold steady and see what's going to happen."

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