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Small business owners are more optimistic about their companies and futures now than they have been in 35 years, according to a recent national survey.

Small businesses often operate in the shadow of larger companies who have the capacity to make bigger changes. But small businesses employ almost 48 percent of all private sector workers, according to the United States Small Business Administration. The companies create job opportunities and drive economic growth in smaller geographic areas.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the local economy,” said Chris Kershner, executive vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “Small business owners live local, spend local and play local. They aren’t just involved in the community, they are the community.”

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Small business owners in Ohio and across the nation are hiring more workers, offering higher wages, seeing increased sales and profits and most believe now is a good time to expand because of economic conditions, according to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.

“When times are good small business owners can do well,” Kershner said. “When times are tight, small business owners have the most at risk.”

Right now, times are good, according to the NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index, which measures how well small businesses are doing based on 10 factors including earnings, pricing, employment and compensation. The index reached 107.9 in July, its highest level since 1983 and within .01 point of the record high in the 45 years of the survey.

One of the biggest indicators of strength within small businesses is the recent hiring burst. In the U.S., 59 percent of small businesses are looking to hire, according to the NFIB. In Ohio, even more are looking for new employees, with 98 percent of companies surveyed by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation hiring during the second quarter of 2018 and 95 percent planning to hire more in the third quarter.

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“This is positive news for job seekers in Ohio,” said Katie Koglman, executive director of the Ohio Chamber Research Foundation. “Our small businesses are satisfied with the productivity of their current workforce and have huge plans for expansion. There is a positive spirit of optimism among our business leaders.”

Local small businesses like Clash Dayton, a store on Fifth Street that sells vintage and locally-made products, have seen increased sales and hired new workers for the first time in seven years of ownership, said owner Mary Burnside.

Previously Burnside and one part-time employee operated the store, but now she’s hired two full-time workers and upped her part-time employee to full-time. She also expanded into the online marketplace recently.

“There’s just more people buying than what we noticed from the past,” she said. “We have more people out shopping. We would always have people looking around, but now they’re looking and buying.”

Mark Stapelton, owner of Hats N More, said he also hired three to four new employees in 2018 and doesn’t have any plans to slow down.

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“We plan to expand every year. We don’t see any reason to not keep growing,” Stapelton said. “We’re going to add more stores, more people, everything.”

Stapelton opened a new sports apparel store at The Greene Town Center in July, and said sales have grown about 5 percent in each of his stores so far this year. He has five other stores at the Dayton Mall, Florence Mall in Kentucky and Tri-County and Northgate malls in Cincinnati.

Independent restaurants and bars are also seeing the increased sales. Gus Stathes and Sara Levin bought the Barrel House downtown in November. They are on track to bring in more sales in one year than the previous owner did in three.

While Stathes said the space is too small to add more employees and its too early in the ownership to look at expanding, he was able to invest into a patio that he didn’t think would happen for two to three years.

“It seems like more people have cash to spend, and when people have spending money, they want to go drink it away sometimes,” Stathes said.

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