The U.S. Department of Commerce third-quarter GDP reports suggest the fastest economic growth in nearly 20 years. According to the Conference Board, consumer confidence is now at its highest level for the year. But, the experts also agree that any sustained economic improvement must also create jobs. According to Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) president and CEO Christopher J. Kersting, data compiled following the recent SEMA Show 2003 adds to the promising news of a domestic economy on the upswing."Our survey of members' economic outlook for the fourth quarter, since it also addresses job growth, is worth noting. The survey responses confirm the positive news of an economy on the mend," Kersting said.Officials of SEMA noted the majority of member responses came from small to mid-size companies, members who, as Kersting puts it, "are on the front line of any economic change...which adds to the value of this opinion sample. These are companies very much in tune with human resources and the need to keep or let go workers."The survey asked several questions general to business and specific to the specialty automotive industry. Of these, three inquiries dealt with the members' evaluation of economic strength; business growth optimism/pessimism; and how their outlook might influence employment. SEMA's analysis of the data finds 78.6% of responding members believe the U.S. economy will improve in 2004. Of the respondents, 41.3% were "very optimistic" about business growth during the coming year; 31% were "optimistic"; and 16% were "somewhat optimistic."The survey also showed that 38% of responding members have increased the number of their employees in 2003, with 36% indicating no reduction in workforce during the current year."If we give this information the broadest, non-scientific definition, it might be simply 'more good news' -- another positive indication that American small and mid-size businesses feel bullish about their prospects and about the automotive aftermarket in particular," Kersting said.