Optimism among small and medium-sized businesses is the highest it's been since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with 57% percent of U.S. businesses optimistic about the overall economic outlook for the next 12 months, higher than before the pandemic began, according to results of a national survey released Thursday by Principal Financial Group.

The survey of more than 500 employers across the country paints a brightening picture for the pulse of business, given that only 39% of employers said they were positive about their business prospects six month ago, in November.

Widespread vaccine distribution in the U.S. and signs of economic resurgence are changing sentiments. According to the survey, 45% of respondents expect to fully recover from the impact of COVID-19 over the next six months and 65% estimate that full recovery will occur within a year.

Amy Friedrich, president of US Insurance Solutions at Principal, believes in addition to increasing vaccine availability, the rise in optimism may be due to the easing of some state and local restrictions allowing employers to return to more normal operations, along with continued small business support and relief programs.

“The recovery has been uneven, but the fact that more employers are feeling positive about the health of their business is a good sign,” Friedrich said. “They’ve worked hard to overcome the challenges of the past year and we’re seeing them remain determined to grow — both their business and their employee base.”

Some of the positivity stems from businesses weathering the pandemic from a cash perspective, with 77% reporting a comfortable cash flow situation.

Employers shared that more funds for federal relief programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, as well as easing operational capacity restrictions would positively affect economic recovery from COVID-19.

An infographic from Principal summarizing additional survey results can be found at this link.