Over the last few years, the economy has taken some significant steps forward, albeit a little slowly. This has, however, put many small business owners across the country in a very strong position and rebuilt the optimism they may feel about where they stand, as well as their chances for their future success. These conditions were recently highlighted in a poll of entrepreneurs in Michigan, where the economic downturn had a particularly harmful impact, but where outlooks for future success are nonetheless fairly rosy these days.

The current economic situation has a significant majority of small and medium-sized business owners in Michigan optimistic about their chances for success in 2016, according to the latest Michigan Future Business Index from the Accident Fund Insurance Company of America and the Michigan Business Network. For instance, 70 percent of those polled say they're satisfied with the current economy, and half have seen increased sales this year, up from just 35 percent as recently as 2011.

"Clearly, there is tremendous optimism about the business climate in Michigan and the opportunities for success," said Mike Britt, president of Accident Fund Insurance Company of America. "We should all feel good about the improvements we've seen in Michigan over the past few years. However, we can't lose sight of the challenges we face in attracting and retaining top employees."

Small business owners are feeling far more confident these days.Small business owners are feeling far more confident these days.

Other numbers showing progress too
In addition, 44 percent of respondents said their companies were able to increase the amount of money they paid to their employees over the course of 2015, the report said. That was up from just 15 percent four years ago. Along similar lines, nearly 1 in 3 companies said that they hired more people, up from only 1 in 9 which did the same back in 2011.

But what may be most encouraging to small business owners these days is that their counterparts in Michigan believe those trends are going to continue unabated into 2016, the report said. Indeed, nearly 2 in 5 say their bottom lines are expected to improve over the next six months, and that's a high never before seen in this survey. As a likely consequence, 40 percent of respondents say that they plan to hire more workers this year, and 42 percent believe they will be able to increase wages.

"The latest survey highlights just how far we have come over the past few years. Michigan small business owners should feel great pride in what they have accomplished," said Chris Holman, CEO of the Michigan Business Network. "They have made tremendous progress and I expect that to continue into 2016 and beyond."

What else to keep in mind
Finally, 22 percent of owners seem to still carry some concerns about what the labor market will provide them, though, the report said. That number is actually up from just 16 percent in June, but as more think about hiring, they may just be coming to realizations about hiring prospects that they hadn't really been able to consider in more difficult financial times.

Any independent companies looking to expand their employee rolls or increase worker pay next year may want to develop a financial plan that gives them a clear and confident strategy for doing so responsibly. Relying on a financial plan – potentially with help from a local community bank – could go a long way toward helping small business owners determine their best path forward in this regard, and keeping them insulated from significant risk even as their overall standings improve in the near future.