By a variety of indicators, optimism is holding fairly steady on Main Street.
As the U.S. economy continues to climb out of recession mode, America's small businesses are feeling consistently positive and also borrowing at record rates. The National Federation of Independent Business reported a gain of 1.3 points to 95.4 in its latest small-business optimism index reading for July, citing expectations for business conditions and in particular plans to add inventories and real sales gains as two of the biggest drivers in the jump.
The conservative lobbying group notes this number is below its average of 98, although the index has been tracking steadily higher post-recession.
"The economy isn't bad. It's certainly not a recessionary time," said Gene Marks, who owns The Marks Group in Philadelphia, providing tech and financial services to some 600 small- and medium-sized businesses in the mid-Atlantic region. "There's less uncertainty than there's ever been with gridlock in Washington. They are also not seeing significant headwinds that would preclude them from making small investments."
Adding to this the Paychex/ IHS Small Business Jobs Index is also showing steady job growth among the nation's small businesses, holding above the 100 mark for nearly four years. Seven of nine regions measured showed growth in July.
"Stability is apparent this summer, and this year, in contrast to the volatility of the preceding year," the report states.
Small businesses are also borrowing at a record pace, and those that aren't claim all of their credit needs are met. The Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index released last week rose to its highest level since 2005 at 143.3 in June, also up 19 percent from a year earlier. The index tracks data from 250 leading U.S. lenders.
The NFIB report also shows that only 4 percent of small businesses report that all of their borrowing needs were not met. This is a historically low figure, while 32 percent claim all of their credit needs are met. To be fair, the NFIB also says more than half of its membership is flat out not looking for loans right now.
"Some borrow because they can—they're also replacing deficits that were generated in the past few years," Marks said. "The ability to receive capital has never been as great—banks are lending more than ever, and there are more alternate sources of financing."
Despite recent perceived stability, small businesses are always subject to a variety of headwinds, as they lack the timing and monetary resources needed to comply with regulatory changes. One on the horizon—a rise in the minimum wage, as congressional Democrats are pushing for $12 an hour by 2020, a continued talking point for candidates heading into the 2016 election.
"I predict there will be a hike in the federal minimum wage, but it's also locally being done," Marks said.