Small-business owners seem to be donning rose-colored specs. A survey by Heller Financial Inc. finds that 53% of executives at small and midsize firms expect the economy to improve this year. That's quite a contrast to large corporations, only 20% of which anticipate improved economic conditions over the next six months, according to the Conference Board. Why the disparity? One Heller analyst says big firms base projections on reports and forecasts, whereas entrepreneurs simply respond to street-level demand, which remains feverish.

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