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updated: 7/22/2013 5:36 AM

Increased small business activity points to economic gains

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If small business actually is the bell cow for economic activity, the outlook may be brighter than it has been in some time. At least that's what conversations with four suburban business owners seem to indicate:

• "Things are picking up," says employment specialist Luisa Buehler.

"There's still uncertainty about the economy. Many businesses are holding their breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and there's uncertainty about the ACA," Buehler cautions. "But many companies just can't wait any longer to get their services delivered or their product out the door."

Buehler is president of The Hire Solution Employment Corp., an Oakbrook Terrace placement agency that does mostly temp to perm.

"A year ago when a business ordered a temp for three weeks, they'd (stop) the deal after two and a-half weeks," Buehler says. "But now they're asking if they can keep the temp longer."

• "I do think it's coming back, says Scott Price, president of Toms-Price Home Furnishings. In fact, Price says, business in midsummer is up 15 percent over a year ago.

An upscale retailer with headquarters and an outlet store in Bloomingdale, Toms-Price has stores in Wheaton, South Barrington, Old Orchard and Lincolnshire.

"The stock market and housing values are important to my customers," Price says. "They didn't lose their jobs during the recession, but they lost their confidence." Now, however, housing values are strengthening and the stock market "is doing a lot better," Price says.

"We can project our weekend by tracking the Dow 30."

• Count Alison Hall, the Alison in AlisonInk Creative Communications, Arlington Heights, among entrepreneurs who have been "much busier this year." That's partly because Hall spent "a lot of time" last year getting the word out about her marketing business and "partly because marketing departments finally have the go-ahead and the funds to get projects done," she says.

"It still feels like clients are proceeding with a certain amount of caution -- no one forgets what the last five years were like -- but there definitely is a sense of things getting back to normal."

Hall notes two other positive indicators: "I've been hired for several long-term projects. That commitment just wasn't happening during the recession. And several of my clients have moved on to new positions. That's much better than when clients were losing their jobs."

• Revenue at NutriFit Inc., a Glen Ellyn fitness studio and nutrition therapy practice is "up a little -- not significantly but noticeably," says President Cathy Leman.

Part of the increase comes from NutriFit's corporate wellness programs. Interest in employee wellness "has improved with the economy," Leman says. "Businesses are beginning to see that (wellness) helps save significant money in the long run."

At the same time, individuals are recognizing that nutrition can be a factor in individual health, a plus for Leman's private practice. "The diet connection gets stronger every week," Leman says.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at

2013 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

Clarification: A reader question about Patient-Centered Outcome Research Institute fees brought this answer from James Doyle, my source on the topic in last week's column and head of The Arista Group LLC: "PCORI fees for a self-funded health plan are paid by the plan sponsor. That's the employer." I should have been more explicit.

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