Utah business leaders feel moderate optimism about the economy and what it means to their companies as 2010 approaches. But they predict local consumers will be spending less this holiday season than last year.

What's more, economic growth is not something they expect to come roaring back.

That's all according to Zions Bank's most recent Utah Quarterly Economic Forecast, released Monday.

Utah bosses also list employee health insurance costs as their top concern, for the fourth straight quarter.

The survey of business leaders found a "relatively steady level of optimism" about their companies' futures, although it's well below what it was a couple of years ago. On a scale of 1 to 10, with a higher number showing more optimism, the collective measurement among the business leaders was 6.08, down just barely from the 6.22 of early 2009. It's far below levels in 2006 and 2007 but remains steady this year.

"Although optimism regarding their companies' financial futures is down markedly from what it was in 2006 and 2007, Utah executives' attitudes seem to be relatively level in the current year," Pat Jones, co-owner of Dan Jones & Associates, which conducts the survey each quarter, said in a news release announcing the forecast.

The quarterly surveys are completed by a study panel that includes 1,169 business executives, the goal being to see Utah's economic health through the eyes of its business leaders. Zions started the survey in 2006.

Two-thirds of respondents in this third-quarter 2009 survey predicted local consumers will spend somewhat or much less this holiday season than last year. One-fourth said spending would be about the same.

Just under half said their company's economic health will be about the same for another quarter, while 22 percent said it will be much worse and 33 percent predict it will be somewhat or much better.

Two-thirds said their companies had tried to get credit from a financial institution in the past year — something 57 percent said was very or somewhat difficult. Only 15 percent said it was very easy.

They were divided on whether their companies' capital expenditures would rise or fall in the next quarter, with 45 percent saying they'll hold steady. Only 16 percent predicted an increase in capital outlay.

Most of the respondents also predicted a flat employment picture: 55 percent said the same next quarter as last, 24 percent said they'll do some hiring and 21 percent said jobs will be lost.

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