Compared with the fall of 2012, more small business owners are optimistic this year that the national economy will grow stronger. Yet, according to research recently released by the Hartford, more of them rate their risk-taking as conservative, despite even more hope regarding local economies.

The Hartford reports that, of the 2,000 owners of for-profit businesses with fewer than 100 full-time employees surveyed, 48% are optimistic the national economy with strengthen this year, up from 33% last year. In their area markets, small business owners expect even faster growth: 48% feel more optimistic about their local economy in the next six months than the national economy, versus 22% for the reverse.

All of the major concerns and perceived threats to business remain from 2012, but they are down across the board. Those questioned by the Hartford cite as risks to their small businesses: slow economic growth (59% vs. 67% in 2012), taxes (42% vs. 59%), health care costs (40% vs. 53%) and uncertainty with federal regulations (30% vs. 56%).

However, despite all this, 79% of small business owners consider themselves more conservative than bold in the overall level of risk they are currently taking with their business, up from 73% last year.

“Risk-taking has always been the domain of America’s small business owners,” says Liam E. McGee, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The Hartford. “Today, many small business owners say that the Great Recession left them with scars and they are now more cautious in how and where they invest their capital. To get this growth engine of the economy growing again, small businesses need more clarity and certainty on what tomorrow will bring.”

For example, 68% say they are at least somewhat informed about the Affordable Care Act, though only 21% say they feel fully informed. Thirty-nine percent believe it will have a mostly negative impact on their business, and 43% think it will have no impact at all. Of the former, respondents say they will try to offset the impact by taking one or more action: reduce hours (38%), halt future recruitment (37%) and cut staff (33%).

“While a majority of owners believe they are informed on the Affordable Care Act, more education is still needed, particularly for those with the fewest employees,” McGee says. “Many small business owners indicate plans to take actions that would reduce job opportunities for workers and potentially stifle the growth of their businesses. It is critical that these be informed decisions based on knowledge and facts.”

Seventy percent of those surveyed believe their business is currently operating successfully.

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