Small Business Optimism on the Rise

A recent national survey shows small businesses across the country are looking forward to a successful year. But some experts say the positive outlook is sector specific and simply a reaction to the end of a lengthy recession.

"It’s got to depend on what business you are in," said Ian Cross, principal of Philadelphia-based I-Site, a digital marking and software company made up of 7 people.  "What is happening in entrepreneurship in tech isn’t happening downtown."

The results of the 2014 Chase Business Leaders Outlook shows 73 percent of the nation’s small businesses leaders have a positive perception of how their company will perform in next 12 months and 57 percent have an optimistic view of the local economy’s coming year.

"This is a really big signal because this is a community that is very challenged by the downturn," said Jim Glassman, a senior economist with JPMorgan.

Data from the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center (SBDC) also indicates growing strength in the Keystone State’s small business community.

From 2012 to 2013, the amount of investment owners made in their small businesses rose 30 percent in Pennsylvania, according to the SBDC’s Diane Sandstrom.

"Anytime a business invests to grow or expand they are taking a risk," said Sandstrom, who described that willingness as an indication of confidence.

Despite the encouraging indicators, Sandstrom said Pennsylvania’s small business community is far from comfortable.

"We’re still digging out of a recession," she said. "There are still a lot of struggling entrepreneurs out there."

Cross agrees, describing the community’s outlook as "conservatively optimistic."

"Anyone who has been through the topsy turvy last few years has a sense of realism," he said. "They may be excited about the possibilities, but they manage their business very tightly these days."

Glassman adds the positive perception can’t overcome the need for investment in the right industries.

"It is important to build the culture of interest in technology," he said. "There is a synergy that comes from building up critical mass."

The city’s tech scene gained steam recently with the establishment of N3rd Street and the excitement surrounding Philly Tech Week events, but Cross says the local industry still needs help.

"Finding the right people in my line of work, I still find that is a major challenge," he said.

Glassman suggests leveraging the city’s established assets, like the universities, to spur further development in the tech industry, but adds it will take time to see the results. 

"We are really only in the fifth inning of economic recovery," he said. "When we stumble like we did, it takes a long time to get back on our feet."

Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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