The United States is working its way out of the worst economic downturn in three generations, and that transition has been difficult for everyone involved. But there's reason to believe that small business owners may be the most optimistic Americans entering 2013.

According to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), good feelings are running high among entrepreneurs. The organization's monthly small business optimism index rose to 90.8 in February, up appreciably from 88.9 in January.

There were a number of factors contributing to the uptick in entrepreneur confidence for last month. One big one was an increase in capital spending – 25 percent of small business owners polled said they expected to spend more in March. Furthermore, 4 percent planned to hire more employees and 2 percent expected to drum up revenue with higher selling prices.

The economy has been sluggish for most of the last four years, and gridlock in Washington has made it difficult for lawmakers to do much of anything to stimulate growth. But it appears that small businesses have shrugged off the malaise in the federal government, opting instead to fuel business banking themselves, as Vistage CEO Leon Shapiro explained.

"Business owners are learning to take control of their own destiny," Shapiro told U.S. News. "There are many parts of the Washington story they're not able to control. They've gotten very smart about how to drive business and growth in that environment."

Independence up, employment down
Armed with nothing but their own free will to control market forces, small business owners have empowered themselves. Their hard work is paying off – data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployment is now at a four-year low. For much of Barack Obama's presidency, the national rate has hovered right around 9 percent. In February, it checked in at 7.7.

There are still a number of challenges facing small business owners in 2013. Most notably, the spending cuts brought about by the sequester will have far-reaching effects. While only federal spending is being cut directly, that austerity will funnel down as Americans find themselves less stimulated by Washington. Obama's health care initiative will also have an effect, as the Affordable Care Act will place a number of restrictions on companies' abilities to reap profits.

But considering the circumstances, small businesses are in a relatively strong position going forward, and more slow and steady growth can be expected in 2013 and beyond.