TAMPA — It's tough for the executives who run ExecuJet to keep their enthusiasm grounded these days.
Higher fuel prices notwithstanding, operators of the largest corporate jet charter company in Tampa Bay anticipate a 20 percent surge in business this year. They added a third Hawker 800 XP jet, an eight-seater, boosting their fleet to seven aircraft.
Customers who had stayed away during the recession are coming back, along with new customers. And ExecuJet will likely add five or six employees to its 21-employee operation this year to meet demand, said Thomas May, director of charter sales.
"We're definitely on the upswing," he said.
Maybe it's the spring weather. Maybe the surge in tourism. Maybe, just maybe, it's tied to banks lending a bit more.
Regardless of the reason, Florida small businesses like ExecuJet are increasingly optimistic about the economy and their own business prospects in particular.
In fact, they're substantially more optimistic than most other small-business owners around the country based on the spring "Small Business Monitor" released last week by American Express.
• Nearly half of Florida business owners say they are planning to hire within the next six months, up dramatically from the approximately one-fourth who said they were in hiring mode last fall.
• About two-thirds have a positive outlook for their business prospects, compared to a third last fall.
• More than four in 10 businesses say the economy is in recovery.
But there are some nagging concerns. Seventy-one percent of Florida business owners anticipate cash flow issues over the next six months, with the biggest worry — cited by 20 percent — being the ability to pay bills on time.
Still, more than three-fourths of owners plan to grow their business over the next six months.
The results mesh with a recent PNC economic outlook, which indicated optimism among small businesses has returned to levels not seen since before the recession in 2008 to 2009. A majority of small business were still tepid on growth, the PNC survey showed, but the number of small businesses expected to add employees in six months rose to one in three.
ExecuJet's May suggests that Florida businesses may be more "up" than those across the country in part because tourism has come back.
Plus, he says, entrepreneurs can sense opportunity here.
"Florida is the perfect place for new businesses. There's plenty of high-skilled workers here to allow these companies to come in and grow," he said. "Not to mention the awesome weather year-round. That's good stuff."
Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or [email protected]