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<p>CHICAGO – Executives at the nation’s community banks, who serve a market often shared with credit unions, generally are optimistic about the economy right now, according to a survey released recently. Grant Thornton’s “Survey of Middle-Market Business Owners” found that 89% of community-banking respondents say they believe the U.S. economy will improve over the next six months. Meanwhile, more than nine out of 10 of those executives are optimistic regarding the growth of their business over the next six months (95%) and 12 months (98%). This represents the highest growth optimism out of the industries surveyed: community banking, consumer and industrial products, technology, and other. The optimism was reflected in the banks’ staffing outlook. In the next six months, 98% plan to add more employees or keep the same number (40% more; 85% same number). The top three actions community bank bosses plan to take in the next three months are streamlining business practices (80%), meeting personally with key customers (77%), and increasing direct communication with employees (73%). This was the fifth biannual “Survey of Middle-Market Business Owners by Grant Thornton.” It was conducted through telephone interviews with 404 business owners and senior executives at companies with revenues between $5 million and $500 million (between $100 million and $2 billion in assets for community banks). Chicago-based Grant Thornton is an accounting, tax and management advisory firm with 650 offices in 109 countries. Its Web address is www.GrantThornton.com.</p>

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