Private equity firms are helping with employment growth, according to a new survey by accounting firm McGladrey LLP.

McGladrey’s annual survey found that nearly two-thirds of PE firms reported increased headcount at their portfolio companies. The findings come at a time of increased debate about the role of private equity firms in the economy, as the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns trade accusations over Romney’s record of job creation while he headed Bain Capital.

“Not only are these firms increasingly focused on growing their portfolio companies as a primary means of generating value, they are increasing headcounts on the ground level as part of that process,” said Milton Marcotte, national practice leader of transaction advisory services for McGladrey.

The McGladrey survey also found that private equity firms are taking a more active role in portfolio company management. Firms reported an increase in their focus on management, operations and strategy to drive value creation, as opposed to reliance on leverage and financial engineering.

“On-shoring” is becoming a preferred strategy as Chinese labor and freight costs rise. Survey responses indicated that more companies are returning production to the United States or moving it to closer low-cost countries.

While proposed changes to the carried interest tax rate are more likely to impact fund structure and creation, nearly 40 percent of respondents are currently unsure of whether an increased tax rate on carried interest would have a significant impact on investments and operations. The Obama administration has proposed raising taxes on the carried interest of private equity firm partners to the top tax rate for ordinary income of 35 percent rather than the top capital gains tax rate of 15 percent. Instead of worrying about upcoming tax rates, PE firms appear to be concentrating their attention on developing tax-efficient structures that provide future benefits.

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