A new survey shows 47% of the owners of Iowa’s small to medium sized businesses are optimistic about job growth in the first quarter of 2012. Tom Hamilton is president of the Hamilton Group, which conducted the survey of more than 5,000 companies with fewer than 5,000 employees.

“Optimism is just how they feel about job growth in their industry, not necessarily their hiring plans,” Hamilton said. “But, that’s usually a good leading indicator for what the organization’s plans will lead to.” The optimism about job growth is up from 40-percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The survey found 36% of the companies expect to boost employment over the first three months of next year. Hamilton said many business owners are taking a “wait and see” approach because of economic uncertainty.

He said the survey indicates the top concerns for Iowa businesses include government budgets, business regulations and red tape, and uncertainties surrounding health care costs. Nine-percent of the companies surveyed plan to cut their workforce between January and March.

Hamilton said he’s noticed more businesses are hiring contract labor. “A lot of individuals have moved into hanging their own shingles, so to speak, and are offering those contract services,” Hamilton said.

 “There are more businesses utilizing those people and their expertise because it’s a temporary situation that doesn’t require them to make a long term commitment and with uncertainties, they may need the service but they’re not so sure about it that they want to add someone to their full time payroll.”

Iowa’s unemployment rate in November dropped to 5.7%, down from 6% in October and 6.2% one year ago.