Help Wanted: Are Small Businesses Hiring?

The jobs drought in the U.S. saw some rain in December. And small business owners across the country have varying reactions to the precipitation.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to from 9.8 % to 9.4 % in December with the economy adding 103,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported Friday. That was the biggest one-month drop since April of 1998, and the last time it was this low was in May of 2009.

Of the 103,000 jobs added in December, 47,000 were in the leisure and hospitality sector, and 36,000 were in the healthcare industry.

Things may be looking up, but what are business owners themselves actually saying about hiring?

Hale and Hearty Soups which has 23 locations across New York City, is currently in hiring mode, according to CEO Simon Jacobs.

“The fact is for us our business has held up remarkably well during the recession, we didn’t have any downturn in our sales,” Jacobs told FOXBusiness. “I think there is a change in the optimism of business today, due to the change in the balance of power in the government.”

The extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and the “100 percent expense” rule for businesses in 2011, that allows employers to write off any big-ticket purchases made throughout the year, were the first real changes to benefit businesses in some time, he said. Hale and Hearty has plans to open additional two-to-four locations in the coming year.

“When we open a store, it costs a lot of money, and if we can write that off in one year, it reduces our tax bill,” Jacobs said. “The cash we will save from that we will use to build another store, and when we open a new location, we hire another 25 people.”

Health care, on the other hand, doesn’t have Jacobs feeling as sunny. The lingering fate of health-care reform is one issue that keeps him up at night. In three years, Hale and Hearty, along with other small businesses, may have to offer health insurance to all employees, an increase of between 30 and 50 percent cost for low-wage employees, in addition to salaries, Jacobs said.

“I feel more optimistic about things except for that—that is a big number,” he said.

Aldo Venturino, co-owner of Venezia’s Pizzeria in Rio Rancho, N.M, said he isn’t so quick to believe the employment hype. Venturino, who owns the business with his brother, had close to 100 employees before the economy crashed. Now, he has 58 in three locations across the state, and is in no rush to add additional staffers.

“Our staff are usually here for a long time,” Venturino said. “There’s not a high volume of turnover. I don’t feel I see hiring coming yet. But, we do feel like the business seems to have stabilized in the past year and possibly even gone up one or two percent.”

The pizzeria opened in 1978, closed down in 1995, and re-opened again in 2000, he said. As a small business owner, Venturino said he thinks it will take another year or two before the economy really bounces back and transformative growth can take place.

“I just don’t personally see anything happening yet,” he said. “It’s going to get better… it will happen eventually.”