Optimism is growing among small business owners, according to a survey by payroll provider SurePayroll.

SurePayroll’s Small Business Scorecard for March found that hiring declined slightly, by 0.2 percent, among the company’s payroll clients and the size of employee paychecks remained essentially flat. However, optimism among small owners was 70 percent, the first time optimism has reached the 70 percent range since last May.

In surveying small business owners, SurePayroll found that 31 percent plan to hire during the remainder of the year, while 67 percent plan to maintain their current employment level, and 2 percent expect to reduce hiring.

SurePayroll also found that nearly 80 percent of the small business owners polled said the amount of business they experienced in the first quarter of this year either met or exceeded their expectations, largely thanks to increased demand for their services and cost cutting. They would most like to see a reduction in taxes, insurance costs and gas prices to help them continue the momentum.

“Small businesses are seeing some demand rebounding in their businesses and very few are talking about a pullback in hiring. These are good signs for the future,” said SurePayroll president and CEO Michael Alter in a statement. “Despite the lack of hiring, we want small businesses to continue the momentum they do have into the next quarter and beyond. Giving them every opportunity to grow by reducing the cost of doing business should open the door to increased hiring.”

On a regional basis, SurePayroll found that month-over-month regional hiring fell slightly after showing some growth in February, with only the South remaining flat. Wages inched up slightly higher in the South and West, but fell slightly in the Midwest and Northeast.

Year-over-year, the South continues to show promising signs with hiring up 2 percent and wages up 0.6 percent.

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