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For small businesses, optimism about the future continues to wane

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A COVID-19 precautions sign hangs in the window of a closed business on April 16, 2021 in San Francisco, California.

"We’re as concerned now as we were a year ago of our ability to survive this," said one small business owner. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Small business owners’ optimism about the economy fell in March, according to a new survey from the National Federation of Independent Business. It found that small businesses are continuing to grapple with staffing shortages, supply chain disruptions and higher costs.

Many business owners don’t see those challenges going away any time soon either.

After Mark Frier closed one of his three restaurants in Vermont, he was able to re-hire that entire staff at one of his other locations. But he’s still struggling to find the workers he needs.

“We have ads out at both restaurants and continue to not really have anybody apply,” he said.

Frier said he’s raised pay and increased prices to help meet payroll and the higher costs of food. Sales have been growing but not by enough to offset these added costs.

“I wish I felt like we were back confidently, but we’re not,” Frier said. “And we’re as concerned now as we were a year ago of our ability to survive this.”

Those higher costs are cutting into small business profits. That limits other types of business spending, according to Holly Wade, executive director of the NFIB Research Center.

“They’re not certain about spending a lot of money on capital expenditures to improve productivity.”

The number of business owners expecting better economic conditions over the next six months is the lowest ever recorded, Wade added.

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