As the economy slackens, some small-business owners are keeping upbeat about the health of their individual companies, a recent Opinion Research survey finds.

While 80 percent of 504 entrepreneurs recently surveyed said economic conditions were poor, only 35 percent felt conditions were bad for their businesses, the New Jersey-based firm reported. Up to 65 percent of business owners and managers said their businesses were in good shape, with 51 percent expecting the economy to improve within the next year, the survey found.

"It's quite a contrast from their negative assessment of current economic conditions," Wayne Russum, senior vice president of Opinion Research, said in a statement. "It's unclear if their attitudes reflect the natural optimism of the small business community or are a true indicator that the financial impacts of the economy have not reached small businesses yet," he said.

Russum added that the small-business outlook is a critical gauge of future economic activity.

"Given the important role that small businesses play in fueling the U.S. economy, it will be important to see if this optimism continues through the rest of this year and into 2009," he said.