Small-business executives are increasingly gloomy about the national economy--yet many expect their own companies to beat the odds, says a quarterly survey by Heller Financial in Chicago. Similarly, the NFIB's monthly survey found optimism at a seven-year low--and sales expectations up. Why the contradiction? "A downturn creates opportunities to gain market share," says Heller CEO Richard J. Almeida. In fact, many entrepreneurs see the dot-com shakeout as a chance to recapture some lost business.

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