Grant Thornton says results from its survey of middle-market business leaders show that they are focusing on growing their companies, but are less optimistic on hiring trends.

During the coming year, 83 percent of business leaders polled expect the U.S. economy to improve and 92 percent are optimistic about growth of their business. This is an increase from 70 percent and 86 percent, respectively, in June 2003.

“This optimism is the highest level reported in the past year and a half, showing that middle-market businesses are primed and ready for growth,” said Kevin Beasley, partner in Grant Thornton’s Raleigh office. “Optimism for the broader economic health of the nation is providing businesses with a vision of a robust marketplace that is essential for the growth of their own business.”

According to the most recent U.S. Census statistics, middle-market businesses … firms between $100 million and $2.5 billion in revenues … account for $3 trillion in revenues and employ nearly 20 million Americans.

For hiring trends, Grant Thornton’s survey show that 39 percent reported an increase in employees over the past year, while 26 percent say they have decreased their staff, and 34 percent cite no change.

Additional highlights from the survey show that 88 percent of business leaders expect revenues to increase in the upcoming year, and 73 percent predict increases in profitability; business leaders indicate that customers’ expectations have increased across a number of areas, including going beyond the standard relationship (78 percent) and heightened standards for product quality (68 percent); and 76 percent of business leaders feel it is very important for employees to understand value proposition and brand promise, while only 29 percent feel their employees grasp these areas to a great extent.

Wirthlin Worldwide, an independent market research firm, conducts the biannual Grant Thornton Survey of Middle-Market Business Leaders among more than 300 executives. The complete Winter 2004 report, with a special emphasis on how companies are preparing for growth, will be available in late January. To place an advance order, visit Grant Thornton’s website.

Grant Thornton is an accounting, tax and business advisory organization dedicated to mid-size companies. The Carolinas practice includes office locations in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Columbia, SC.

Grant Thornton: www.grantthornton.com