RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Growth, a word few business executives have dared talk about since the 2000 tech crash and the 2001 recession, is back.

In a recent survey by Grant Thornton, technology industry business leaders say they are focusing on company growth in what they feel is an improving economic environment.

“The survey suggests stronger demand for newer, better technologies,” says Mark Larson, partner in Grant Thornton’s Raleigh office. “We believe these factors, as well as the improvement of wireless applications, and the need for greater storage capacity and faster processing, will drive significant investments in technology in the coming year and beyond.”

The Grant Thornton Survey of Middle-Market Business Leaders shows that 80 percent expect the U.S. economy to improve in the coming year, a considerable jump from the November 2002 survey. At that time, only 46 percent of technology business leaders felt the economy would improve in six months.

In addition, 88 percent are optimistic about the growth of their business, which remains basically the same (90 percent) as surveyed in November 2002. Among business expectations, 82 percent of technology business leaders predict increased revenues, 76 percent anticipate improved profitability and 62 percent hope to hire more employees.

“This latest survey signals that technology leaders are very optimistic about the future,” said Monica Doss, president of the RTP-based Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED). “Business leaders understand the importance of technology in all aspects of their businesses, from enhancing customer relations and sales management to improving productivity in the manufacturing process.”

In regards to entity size, half of technology business leaders surveyed by Grant Thornton say employee headcount has increased over the past year. A quarter said headcount has decreased, and another quarter saed employee levels remained the same.

Also, the majority of technology business leaders (60 percent) said they perceive their revenue/turnover to have increased in the past three years. Two in 10, however, say it has decreased, while two in 10 say it has remained the same.

At the same time, 76 percent of technology business leaders said they feel it is very important for employees to understand the company’s brand promise and value proposition, while only 26 percent feel their employees do grasp these areas to a great extent.

The complete survey can be found at www.grantthornton.com/blcsurvey

Grant Thornton: www.grantthornton.com