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SIMILAR RESULTS FROM TWO NEW SMALL-BIZ SURVEYS

For small businesses, things might not be perfect, but they're pretty close. So report two recent surveys, which confirm that small companies are a thriving part of the prosperous national economy. The studies also show, however, that small businesses are skeptical of how long the economy can continue its six-year climb.

According to the two separate studies -- the Survey of Small and Mid-Sized Businesses, conducted by Arthur Andersen's Enterprise Group and National Small Business United, and Coopers & Lybrand's Trendsetter Barometer -- small businesses are enjoying near-record or record profits, revenues, and employee growth. For example, a record 53% of respondents to the Arthur Andersen survey reported profit increases over the last year, up from 50% in 1995. And 80% of the companies polled as part of Trendsetter Barometer said they expect double-digit growth over the next 12 months.

The promising data is, however, tempered by worries over the duration of country's current economic boom. Nearly half of the Arthur Andersen respondents predicted the economy would go "flat" in the next 12 months, with 3% predicting a recession. The companies are also lowering their expectations. For example, 70% of owners foresee revenue increases for the next 12 months, down from 76% in 1996. And 34% of owners expect to hire more employees in the coming year, down from 39% in 1996.

Both surveys show that smaller companies are having a hard time attracting and keeping good employees. Sixty-five percent of companies in the Trendsetters poll -- up from 52% in 1996 -- listed a lack of skilled workers as a barrier to growth. And "Lack of qualified workers" was one of the top challenges facing companies polled in the Arthur Andersen survey. For more information, see the two accompanying tables.

By Dennis Berman in New York


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