The Week in Small Business – 01.15.11

We do the legwork of finding the best in small business news and links. You have more time to do what you love.

Optimism Report’s Winning Streak Snapped

The monthly temperature check conducted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) dropped in December, ending a string of five straight months in which slow-but-certain boosts to small business confidence held sway. The Index of Small Business Optimism shed 0.6 points last month, landing at 92.6. That’s still an improvement from the recent past – the index never cracked 90 in 2009 — but the NFIB is quick to point out that the latest report marks three straight years of “recessionary levels.”

Franchises On the Rebound

Franchised businesses, at least, appear upbeat about the year ahead. The Wall Street Journal reports on a recent study that shows the franchise industry will grow in 2011, though not necessarily at a rocket-fueled pace. The study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the International Franchise Association, predicts the sector will add more stores and more employees, each at a 2.5 percent clip. Franchises and their payrolls both declined in 2009 and saw marginal increases in 2010.

Fed Says Small Biz Lending to Rise in 2011

The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) held a forum this week entitled “Overcoming Obstacles to Small Business Lending.” The verdict? The obstacles are still there, but they’ll ease up in 2011 rather than continue to get worse, according to MarketWatch’s account.

FDIC Opens Small Business Credit Hotline

For its part, the FDIC — which insures deposits at 7,760 banks nationwide — launched a telephone hotline and a web page this week to assist small businesses with credit questions and concerns. “The FDIC will respond to inquiries about policies and financial institutions it regulates as well as make referrals to other governmental agencies where appropriate,” it said in a statement. The toll-free number is 1-855-FDIC-BIZ. The online form can be found here.

Tax Tip: Use A Business Credit Card

CardTrak.com offers a quick and deceptively simple tip that may be particularly useful for solopreneurs, home-based businesses, and others who blend home and office: Use a separate credit card for all business-related expenses. This can help keep your household and business books separate, and simplify taxes and other accounting. The post forgot to mention one vital thing, though: Make sure you have the cash to pay off the balance every month.

Border Wars: Wisconsin Postures for Illinois Businesses

After the Illinois state legislature jacked up the state’s corporate income tax from 4.8 percent to 7 percent this week, the governor of neighboring Wisconsin had a message for Illinois companies: “Wisconsin is open for business.” The Christian Science Monitor notes that Wisconsin’s top corporate income tax bracket is still higher than Illinois’ flat rate even after the increase, but that didn’t stop Scott Walker, who won Wisconsin’s gubernatorial election in November, from making his pitch: “Today we renew that call to Illinois businesses, ‘Escape to Wisconsin.’ You are welcome here. Our talented workforce stands ready to help you grow and prosper.”

Best States for Small Business

The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council published its annual Small Business Survival Index recently. The study ranks the business-friendliness of all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on a variety of factors, including taxes, health care, crime, and others. The top five: South Dakota, Nevada, Texas, Wyoming, and Washington. (Illinois and Wisconsin came in at 28 and 31, respectively.) Where does your state rank?

About Kevin Casey

Kevin Casey is a regular contributor here, at InformationWeek and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @kevinrcasey.
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