April 4, 2005 -- With sales and profits expected to improve, business owners nationwide signal they will hire more workers in the first half of 2005, found a survey by PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.

In a survey of roughly 1,600 business owners and executives, more than two-thirds said they anticipate sales to improve between now and July. Rising costs for healthcare, energy and raw materials, however, pared down the number of respondents expecting profits to increase to 59%.

To handle the expected growth in sales, 33% of respondents plan to add workers.

"These new results show that more business owners are finally feeling confident enough to make plans to hire more employees to support their anticipated growth in consumer demand and sales," said Jeffrey Schmidt, who oversees PNC's small business banking division, in a statement.

Despite seeing a bright future for their firms, the survey found only 20% of business leaders to be optimistic about the future of the United States economy, a 10% drop from last fall.

The most pressing national issue affecting businesses is the rising cost of health care, found the survey, followed by the tax code and the budget deficit. Reforming social security, which has been a major topic in the news, ranked fourth on the list of legislative issues that need to be addressed, with 49% of respondents calling for partial privatization, 36% wanting to reduce benefits for wealthier retirees, and 22% for raising the retirement age.