3 Things You Should Know About Small Business: Feb. 9

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- What's happening in small business today?

1. Small-business hiring expectations hit a four-year high. The latest Wells Fargo ( WFC)/ Gallup Small Business Index suggests that expected small-business hiring over the next year is at its highest rate since January 2008. According to the poll, 22% of small-business owners plan to increase the total number of jobs at their companies in the next 12 months.

The news is encouraging, but for now small businesses are being cautious. Of those companies that do plan to hire, 26% plan to add full-time workers, while 72% prefer to hire temporary, contract or part-time workers.

Hiring temporary workers may be cautiousness on the part of the small-business owner, but it also may be a result of the trouble they seem to have in finding qualified workers. More than half claimed as such in the survey, with 21% saying it has had a negative impact on their business.

2. Small-business lending rises in January. Small-business loan approval rates by community banks and nonbank lenders spiked in January to their highest levels in the past 12 months, according to Biz2Credit's monthly Small Business Lending Index. It analyzes roughly 1,000 loan applications on the Biz2credit.com platform connecting borrowers with more than 1,100 lenders nationwide.

Last month, approximately 47.5% of loans at small community banks were approved in January, while credit unions approved 57.6% of loan applications and alternative lenders approved two-thirds of applications. Lending at banks with more than $10 billion in assets also rose, though more modestly to 11.7% from 9.7% in December, Biz2Credit says.

"Optimism seems to be returning. We have seen a 35% increase in month-to-month volume of new loan applications, which is a good sign," Biz2Credit CEO Rohit Arora says. "The strong holiday sales combined with the latest jobs report showing that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.3% in January -- its lowest level in two and a half years -- indicates that brighter days may be ahead."

Biz2Credit points to the rise of alternative lenders -- including Community Development Financial Institutions, accounts receivable financers, merchant cash advance, microlenders and others -- as viable sources of funding for small businesses.

With the entry of bigger players in alternative financing, the cost of funding in this asset class has begun to drop from an average 27%-28% to 16%-18%, Biz2Credit says, adding that it expects more players to join the alternative funding space. That will drive up competition and lower overall barriers to credit access as well as interest rates, it says.

"There is an increase in start-ups looking for funding, and many of their needs are not fully addressed by traditional lending institutions," Arora says.

3. Yuengling keeps it in the family. America's largest brewery is also the country's oldest -- D.G. Yuengling & Son, founded in 1829 by David G. Yuengling. The company has managed to not only stay private but also keep the operations run by family.

What is the company's secret? American Express ( AXP) OPEN looks into that in a profile of Dick Yuengling Jr., who took over the company from his father in 1985.

One of the company's secrets to success "has been having a manufacturing facility and running it to capacity. We are doing that now and just expanded to Ohio and are doing exceptionally well there. It proves that the consumer is looking for an alternative brand to SAB Miller's ( SAB) Miller, Anheuser-Busch InBev's ( BUD) Bud and Molson Coors Brewing Co.'s ( TAP)Coors Light at the same price," he says.

And the best advice that he can give to other family-owned businesses? Make sure one person is the boss.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

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