Friday was an especially sweet day for Freed's Bakery.
The Las Vegas company had orders for roughly 200 wedding cakes, thanks to a spike in nuptials on 11/11/11.
The big boost in business comes on top of a slower, general pickup in sales in summer and early fall, said general manager Roz Santangelo.
In fact, business has grown steadily enough for Freed's to add employees in the last month or two. The company brought on five new workers in areas ranging from counter sales to delivery, for a 12.5 percent boost over its summertime staff of 40.
A new report from a national paycheck-servicing company shows Freed's isn't the only local small company hiring these days.
The SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard reports that companies with fewer than 100 employees increased staffs by 3.8 percent in Las Vegas from January through October, compared with a nationwide hiring drop of 2.9 percent and a 6.8 percent falloff in the West.
What's more, average small-business paychecks fell locally. While that might not sound like good news, it's positive because it indicates that companies are hiring fresh bodies and cutting back on overtime for other workers, said Michael Alter, SurePayroll's president. The average local wage fell 4.7 percent from January to October, to $28,819 a year.
"In a recovery, when hiring starts to rise, wages fall. We like to see that. Right now, getting people employed is more important than paying them more," Alter said.
Small businesses in Las Vegas may be recovering faster than their counterparts nationwide because the economy here fell faster and harder, Alter said. It's also typical for leisure and hospitality-centered markets to pick up faster than average, he added, because they benefit from increased consumer spending. For recession-weary travelers, a trek to Las Vegas is easier than a visit to London.
Las Vegas has experienced gains in visitor volume for most of the year.
Optimism is also up everywhere, SurePayroll reported. The report doesn't break down optimism by state or city, but nationwide, 53 percent of small-business owners said they felt optimistic about the economy in October, up from 33 percent in September.
"Optimism is like the fuel that drives small business," Alter said. "With small-business optimism taking such a strong upswing, we can be hopeful that hiring and wage trends may follow."
Alter added that the nationwide decline in small-business hiring has slowed.
"That, coupled with rising optimism, makes me think that next month may be even brighter for small business," he said.
Sherrie Hermann thinks so, too.
Hermann, owner of Cal/Pac Painting of Nevada, said she's seen a small but steady increase in business through 2011, thanks to increasing numbers of commercial tenant improvements as businesses move, and to home renovations as homeowners realize they're staying put for the long haul. The gains encouraged Hermann to add four workers to her 30-person staff this year, after hiring droughts in 2010 and 2009. She expects sales to increase in 2012.
Though she feels better about the future and is expanding her company, Hermann said she's not exuberant about business just yet. Before the economy hit the skids, Cal/Pac had more than 100 workers. Though she welcomes any sales increase, it's hard for Hermann to forget the company is still well below where it was.
"I'm feeling more optimistic, but I think we all need to be careful. We don't need to get overexcited," she said. "We were so low that when we pick up, it's not like we're back on the other side of things. We just need to make sure we maintain good relationships, good warranties, good products and good service. Everything that was important before is still important."
Santangelo struck the same measured tone talking about what's ahead for Freed's.
The company expects its typical cyclical business through the end of the year, with slowdowns next week and in early December, countered by pickups around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Freed's doesn't anticipate adding significant numbers of new workers near-term.
But the business plans to up its marketing efforts, particularly through social media such as Facebook, as well as promotions to reach new customers and incentives to draw back existing patrons. Plus, Santangelo said she sees more people -- including herself -- buying homes, and she considers that a good harbinger for the local economy.
Alter traced better feelings about the economy back to surging October stock markets and green economic shoots popping up nationwide.
"People are starting to see a little bit of recovery creeping in. They're starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Despite a lack of government being able to help in any way, they (businesses) are going to make it happen, and they're starting to see how they can do that."
In SurePayroll's survey, 51 percent of small-business owners nationwide said the most critical issues related to job growth are balancing the federal budget, reducing the deficit and stabilizing the housing market. Forty-five percent said they believe a flat tax would boost hiring, while 44 percent said a flat tax would have no effect on hiring. Eleven percent said it would hurt the job market.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4512.