"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.

To follow Laurie Kulikowski on Twitter, go to: http://twitter.com/#!/LKulikowski

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