April 27, 2005--With President Bush set to speak today in front of the Small Business Administration's biggest shindig of the year, a recent study suggests he shouldn't be shy about spreading optimism.

According to the OPEN Small Business Network Monitor, released semi-annually by American Express, 85% of small business owners see growth on the horizon over the next six months, up from 72% in mid 2004 and soaring above the spring 2003 tally of 56%.

"The OPEN Semi-Annual Monitor is echoing what we're hearing every day from our customers: Small business owners remain positive and focused on growing their companies," Susan Sobbott, president of OPEN, said. "Capital investments are up and fewer firms are experiencing cash flow issues. This is a winning combination that positions small businesses nicely for growth."

The capital spending numbers Sobbott mentioned were bright, according to the study, with 66% planning to make capital investments, up from 59% in 2004. Of these expenditures, tech purchases top the list at 43% with office equipment (27%), furnishings (17%) and manufacturing equipment (16%) rounding out the top responses.

Along with the optimistic growth and spending forecasts, the numbers also reflect a positive outlook for job growth. Almost 45% of small business owners surveyed predict that they will hire over the next six months with business out West shining brightest with 56% expecting to hire new workers. Forty-six percent of the businesses in the North Central states expect to hire, as well, with the South and North East finishing up the list at 44% and 30%, respectively.

The use of the Internet also figures prominently in the survey's results. Eighty-two percent of small business owners said they use the Internet for e-commerce, up sharply from 73% last spring and astonishingly higher than the 22% in 2003.

The OPEN monitor sampled 627 small business owners or managers of companies with less than 100 employees and was conducted via telephone between February 9 and February 22.