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Our study found that small business owners are eager to lead the charge out of the country’s protracted recession – with almost three-quarters (72%) saying they will be the driving force behind the U.S. economic recovery in 2010.” –Randy Scarborough, vice president of marketing, FedEx Office

Maybe they’re being overconfident and unrealistic; maybe they saw this survey and said to themselves, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if …” Or maybe – just maybe – the small business owners polled in FedEx Office’s third annual Sign of the Times national survey see something the rest of us don’t.

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As noted above, FedEx Office – formerly FedEx Kinko’s – said its study (conducted in April thsi year) found that small business owners are eager to lead the charge out of the country’s protracted recession – with almost three-quarters (72%) saying they will be the driving force behind the U.S. economic recovery in 2010. In fact, 51% of the small business owners polled noted that their businesses have already or will fully recover by the end of this year.

This optimism is a marked improvement over the survey’s findings last year when 54% of respondents indicated they were very concerned about the economy’s impact on their business. Further evidence of this brighter outlook is that 18% of small businesses are considering an increased budget for staffing and HR activities in 2010, up from just 9% in last April’s survey.

[FYI: FedEx Office conducted this online survey in conjunction with the Ketchum Global Research Network, and Braun Research, polling small business owners who employ five to 100 employees and own firms that generate over $100,000 in annual revenue. A total of 500 interviews were completed, with the margin of error at plus or minus 4.38% at the 95% confidence level.]

FedEx Office also its research found that small businesses are planning to put their trust in the power of marketing to help them restore business to pre-recession levels. About 42% of those polled are considering increasing spending on marketing and advertising initiatives in 2010, with 30% saying they may increase spending on sales initiatives – both actions specifically aimed at boosting customer traffic and revenues.

“The findings in 2010 continue to show off the amazing optimism and resiliency of the small business community,” noted Randy Scarborough, vice president of marketing for FedEx Office.

The confidence of small business owners seems to be bolstered by broader indicators, as well.

For example, economic activity in the non-manufacturing sector grew in April for the fourth consecutive month, according to the latest figures from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM).

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“The non-manufacturing index (NMI) registered 55.4% in April, the same percentage as registered in March, and indicating growth in the non-manufacturing sector,” noted Anthony Nieves, chairman of ISM’s non-manufacturing business survey committee.

The group's non-manufacturing business activity index increased by just 0.3 of a percentage point to 60.3%, reflecting growth for the fifth consecutive month, he added. However, the new orders index decreased 4.1 percentage points to 58.2% and the employment index decreased 0.3 percentage point to 49.5 percent, while ISM’s prices index increased 1.8 percentage points to 64.7% in April, indicating an increase in prices paid from March.

“There are signs of improvement which are leading us to be optimistic; however, as prices escalate the stability of the recovery is at risk,” cautioned Nieves.

All of which means that while the confidence in the economy is there, the numbers supporting such confidence may or may not. And even if the small businesses community ends up leading an economic rally, does that translate into freight for truckers? That’s an unknown at best. We’ll have to sit back and see what unfolds in the next few months.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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