CHICAGO – There’s some economic optimism out there, but not as much as earlier this year, according to an annual survey of decision-makers at middle-market companies across the U.S. Just more than half of the respondents to the Grant Thornton Survey of Middle-Market Business Leaders now say they expect the economy to improve over the next six months, compared with 80% of them in a March survey. But as far as their own businesses go, about 80% of those same business leaders are optimistic about the growth of their own business, down about 7 percentage points from March 2002 and about the same as in October 2001. But they don’t give the president much credit for that. Only 17% believe President Bush is doing an “excellent” job with the economy, a sharp drop from the 41% who thought he was in March, according to the survey by the big Chicago-based accounting firm. On the employment front, 26% of those managers say their companies cut staff size in the past year, but half of them expect to increase their employee head count over the next six months. The survey was conducted by telephone and included 316 business owners and senior executives from a wide range of technology, manufacturing and services companies, including financial services. Middle market was defined as companies with annual revenues of between $20 million and $1 billion. The survey’s margin of error was 5.5 percentage points.

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