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Survey: NH businesses positive about growth

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 23. 2012 11:37PM

Businesses across the state are optimistic about prospects for growth this year, a survey released Monday by New Hampshire Bankers Association shows.

More than half (52 percent) of the 401 businesses surveyed expect growth in gross sales and revenues, and 31 percent expect to add employees.

Thirty percent of businesses in the state expect the economy to expand in the next 12 months, according to the survey by the UNH Survey Center for the bankers group.

That's significantly higher than the 20 percent expecting economic expansion this year in a nationwide survey by the National Small Business Association Survey.

'We were actually very pleased with the results,' Christiana Thornton, president of New Hampshire Bankers Association, said.

Of businesses seeking credit, 94 percent turn to banks, and among existing bank credit customers, 86 percent plan to stay with their current lender.

'Small business owners throughout the state are looking to their local bank to meet their financing needs well beyond the other avenues that they can pursue,' Thornton said.

Access to credit also appears to be fading as a concern. When businesses were asked to name the three most significant challenges to their growth and survival, credit access came in fifth.

The top three challenges - economic uncertainty, decline in customer spending and cost of health - are beyond the control of the average small business, UNH Survey Center Director Andrew E. Smith noted in a telephone interview.

'We tend to think that businesses have more control over those things than they actually do,' he said. The Feb. 13 through April 3, 2012, survey identified 52 percent of the respondents as having just one to nine employees.

Although it wasn't included in the survey, weather can affect businesses from ski areas to restaurants, Smith said.

Start-ups and young businesses had the most trouble accessing credit. Those new businesses may lack benchmarks that banks look for in lending such as existing cash flow and credit history.

'Banks certainly will do their best to work with all businesses,' Thornton said, 'but certainly entrepreneurs can face some difficulty.

'Banks will work with them to see that they can meet that credit need,' she said. But banks may also steer new businesses to angel investors, local community development organizations or other partnerships, she said.

'I think they often need to be a bit more creative and banks may not be the only alternative for them,' Thornton said.

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