Get Started: Franchises upbeat; workers needed

NEW YORK (AP) — UPTICK IN FRANCHISES

The franchise industry began showing signs of improvement as soon as worries eased over a potential jump in tax rates, according to the International Franchise Association.

The trade group says its index rose 0.7 percent in January as businesses that delayed investments in late 2012 because of tax hike fears started spending again after lawmakers reached a January deal to avoid steering the economy off the so-called 'fiscal cliff.'

The IFA's index looks at a variety of factors including employment, consumer demand, credit conditions and overall optimism among small business owners. Most franchises — for example, an individual Subway restaurant or Jiffy Lube — are small businesses.

The pent-up demand combined with an improving lending environment, lower interest rates and less expensive commercial real estate should result in the addition of over 10,000 new franchises this year, IFA says.

The index is up 2.1 percent from January 2012. The IFA also revised its December 2012 index to show an increase of 0.4 percent, reflecting revised data on employment and consumer spending that showed better gains.

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SEARCHING FOR HELP

Despite continued high unemployment, nearly half of small businesses still say they're having a tough time finding the workers they need.

According to a January survey conducted by Gallup and Wells Fargo & Co., 23 percent of small business owners are finding it very difficult to hire qualified workers, up from 21 percent a year ago. Another 30 percent say they find it somewhat difficult to hire people, down only slightly from 32 percent in early 2012.

Many small businesses owners, including those of high-tech companies and specialized manufacturers, have long complained that the job applicants they get don't possess needed skills. In his State of the Union address, President Obama acknowledged the problem and proposed education programs designed to create a more skilled workforce.

The quarterly survey, which polled 601 small business owners, found that over one-quarter of those surveyed have been hurt by their inability to find qualified workers. That's up from 21 percent a year ago.

More than half of those surveyed say their hiring was prompted by increased customer demand, an expansion of their business or higher sales or revenue, rather than to replace employees who left or because of government incentives. Not being able to find qualified workers hurts the businesses' ability to meet greater demand.

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ENTREPENEUR SEARCH

Ernst & Young is looking for the country's most innovative entrepreneurs.

The accounting firm has given its entrepreneur of the year award since 1986. It's sponsored in part by the Kauffman Foundation, which studies trends in entrepreneurship.

Applications must be completed by March 8. Regional winners are named in the spring and the top U.S. prize is awarded in the fall. That winner will represent the U.S. at a global competition the following June. And new for 2013 is the addition of the Family Business Award of Excellence.

More information and online submission forms can be found at www.ey.com/us/eoy . Applications can also be requested by phone at 1-800-755-2927.

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