Employee health-care costs continue to rank highest among small-business concerns, though energy costs, taxes and interest rates aren't far behind, according to the National Federation of Small Business.

Of more than 3,500 small-business owners surveyed nationwide, 56 percent cited health care as their biggest challenge, down from 66 percent in a similar survey four years ago, the Washington-based lobby group reported this week. Energy costs ranked second, followed by federal and property taxes. On a list of 75 potential concerns, "exporting my product" ranked last, the survey found.

Concern over interest rates gained the most ground in the latest survey, jumping from 58th place to 32nd. More business owners were also worried about finding and keeping skilled employees, an issue that moved up 11 places from 2004.

The group said the rankings likely reflect the steadily rising health insurance costs over last decade, as well as a recent surge in energy prices. Only about a fourth of owners surveyed four years ago described energy costs as a critical issue, compared to 43 percent this year.

Small-business owners from a range of industries responded to the survey. The National Federation of Independent Business is one of the nation's largest small-business groups, with more than 600,000 members.