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COLUMBIA — The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index remained basically unchanged in December, drifting down 0.4 points to 104.4

Unfilled jobs and the lack of qualified applicants continue to be a primary driver, with job openings setting a record high and job creation plans strengthening.

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State-specific data are unavailable, but NFIB State Director Ben Homeyer said South Carolina employers also are struggling to find qualified workers. “Our small business members say that’s one of their biggest challenges.”

Reports of higher worker compensation remained near record levels and inventory investment plans surged. Expected real sales growth and expected business conditions in the next six months, however, accounted for the modest decline in the Index.

“Optimism among small business owners continues to push record highs, but they need workers to generate more sales, provide services, and complete projects, said NFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan.

The January NFIB Jobs Report noted that job creation remained solid with a net addition of 0.25 workers per firm, up from 0.19 in November and the best reading since July. A seasonally adjusted net 23 percent plan to create new jobs, up one point from November’s reading. Not seasonally adjusted, 23 percent plan to increase total employment at their firm (up one point), and five percent plan reductions (down two points).

A record 39 percent of small business owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period.

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Sixty percent of owners reported hiring or trying to hire, but 90 percent of those reported few or no qualified applicants for the position.

Twenty-three percent of owners cited the difficulty in finding qualified workers as their Single Most Important Business Problem.

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