According to the fifth edition of the UPS Business Monitor Latin America (BMLA), small and medium-sized business executives particularly those in Colombia, Chile, and Mexico are more confident today than they were a year ago. The study, commissioned by UPS, surveyed more than 800 top-level executives of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in seven countries of the region. The results revealed that half of the respondents believe their business is better today than a year ago, while 60 percent are confident that in 12 months their company will be better financially. "The results from the latest BMLA study demonstrate that Latin American SMEs are looking forward to continuing to grow their businesses in 2012," said Romaine Seguin, president of UPS Americas Region. "There is a sense of optimism among executives from key markets such as Brazil and Colombia which illustrates signs of growth and improvement for the region. We see how businesses are investing first in their country and then outwards, which is very positive for the development of local economies." As found in the study, nearly 63 percent of privately held business owners are optimistic about the region's economic performance. Colombia (68 percent) scored the highest level of optimism of any country surveyed followed by Chile (58 percent), and Mexico (54 percent). Even though there is a very positive outlook for business growth, SME executives face some issues. While Brazilians ranked finding and retaining qualified employees as a main concern, Argentineans mentioned increase in labor costs as their top problem. Furthermore, Dominicans ranked increase in fuel and energy costs as their most worrisome challenge. "The optimism showed by SMEs across the region is a sign of maturity in Latin America," said Eduardo Gamarra, professor of Latin American and Caribbean politics at Florida International University. "South America, especially, feels much more autonomous economically and politically now than in the last couple of years." Areas of investment According to the BMLA, investment in marketing and sales is a top priority at a regional level. The survey also revealed that half of respondents plan on increasing personnel during the next 12 months, with executives from Brazil and Colombia as the top two countries, another testament to the level of confidence in these countries. Construction, technology and business services were identified as the industries with greatest growth opportunity by surveyed executives in Latin America. However, when compared to results from the 2010 study, the opinion of construction and technology as sectors with more growth opportunity decreased by 5 and 15 percent respectively; while business services increased by 10 percent. Economic and political influences With regard to which countries should influence the economic and political future of the region, Brazil is most favored by employers. However, when compared to results obtained prior to the 2008 crisis, the desire to follow Brazil, Mexico and the European Union models has decreased, while the study's ranking of the U.S. and China has increased. Corporate social responsibility As part of the companies' corporate social responsibility activities, it was found that SMEs in the region commit to environmental protection causes the most (34 percent), followed by donations to non-governmental organizations (21 percent) and support programs for communities (18 percent). Furthermore, executives would like to develop more Corporate Social Responsibility activities related to education and training and environmental protection (43 and 24 percent respectively). For more information and materials on the BMLA, please visit: http://pressroom.ups.com/About+UPS/Business+Monitor/Business+Monitor+Latin+America.